Webinars and podcasts are both long-form media formats that will allow you to discuss a topic in-depth and establish yourself as a thought leader in your field. As such, they each serve the dual purpose of informing consumers of the media about the topic at hand and building on the reputation of your brand. The two formats differ in their approach and their benefits, though. So, how do you know which of the two you should choose?
The choice between a webinar and podcast is not a simple matter of saying that one is better than the other. The best option for one company might not be the best option for another. Furthermore, some individual presentations may be better suited to one format or the other. Picking the right option will allow you to balance the amount of effort you put into your podcast/webinar with the amount of benefit that you and your audience receive from it.
In this post, we’ll dive deep into the two different formats and explain what differentiates them and what advantages each offers over the other. By the end, you’ll be able to determine which format is best suited for the needs of the particular presentation that you will be making.
What is a webinar?
The word webinar gives us a clue as to what it is. Webinar derives from the word seminar. When you give a seminar, you gather a large number of people in a venue and give some sort of live presentation. This gives members of the audience the opportunity to interact with you directly and ask questions about things that may come up during the seminar that they are unclear on.
A webinar is essentially a presentation that is also streamed over the internet. It is often the case that the presentation is only delivered on the internet versus in-person. The defining characteristic of a webinar is that it is streamed live and that your audience is able to interact with you, usually via text chat. Aside from that key characteristic, there are some secondary features common to webinars.
As they are based on in-person presentations, webinars are a multimedia experience. There is no such thing as an audio-only webinar. This means you will be using slides or captures of your computer screen to make your presentation to the audience. Because it is a real-time event, you may also have your audience participate in time-sensitive activities such as a poll, quiz or surveys.
Usually, a webinar is recorded and uploaded somewhere so that people can watch it whenever they want. Typical examples of this include Ted Talks and the variety of webinars available through online aggregators like Brighttalk.
What is a podcast?
The name podcast derives from the words iPod and broadcast. At the time, the then audio-only iPod was the most popular way that these shows were delivered. Today, the podcast remains a primarily audio-driven format. There are some popular podcasts that make their shows available in video form, but that video consists only of the host and guests sitting at a table talking into microphones. Occasionally, someone on the podcast may reference a visual element of some sort, such as a chart or a picture, but they will always describe what they are referencing for the audio-only listeners.
Podcasts are almost always pre-recorded and then edited for quality and run-time. Like daily television shows, a podcast host may record several episodes in one day and then release them throughout the course of the week or month. A podcast may be streamed live, but in those cases, the audience participation is non-existent or minimal. In those cases, the live aspect is meant purely to distribute the content to listeners as soon as possible.
Although not a requirement, podcasts tend to be episodic in nature. In that way, if webinars are the seminars on the internet, podcasts are its radio shows. Loyal listeners can subscribe to these podcasts across a number of different platforms in the same way that they may subscribe to a YouTube channel or follow someone on social media.
How are webinars and podcasts different?
Before we start talking about how the differences between the two mediums form the various advantages and disadvantages that each has over the other, let’s have a quick recap of the key distinctions between a podcast and a webinar.
As a form of seminar, the main point of a webinar is to directly engage with an audience and provide them with some form of instruction. The host of a webinar can be thought of as an instructor teaching a class. As a live environment with outside participation, webinars can be unpredictable regardless of how well planned they are.
Although the host of a podcast may be conveying instructional information, he or she is not like an instructor in a class. The audience can’t ask questions or participate in any meaningful way. Instead, the host of a podcast is more like an entertainer. If there are other people for the podcast host to feature, they will be planned guests so unpredictability is minimized. Since they are usually pre-recorded, problems that do arise can be easily edited out during post-production.
With the differences now clearly defined, let’s take a look at how the difference impacts the choice that you make for your particular presentation. Afterwards, we’ll give some final thoughts on what you should consider when making your choice.
The benefits of a webinar
Webinars allow you to include both audio and video. This ability brings with it two distinct advantages. The first is that being able to include visuals such as slides and charts makes it easier for your audience to grasp and retain the information that you are presenting. The second is that you can share your screen with your audience, allowing you to guide them in real-time through the practical skills that you are trying to teach them.
The live aspect of webinars combined with the focus on audience interaction makes it an exceptional platform for teaching. One of the great difficulties of teaching is that you don’t know what your audience will grasp easily and what they will struggle with. Having immediate feedback from your viewers allows you to adapt your teaching in real-time to ensure that the maximum number of people possible come away from the experience having gained the knowledge that you intended to teach them.
Webinars are planned and announced in advance. They often require registration for people to join them. This means that the audience who joins your webinar will be invested in learning the material. They will be more likely to engage thoughtfully in the discussion and less likely to cause problems in the chat room.
Because you can require your audience to register in advance, it is easier to monetize a webinar. Some webinars cost as much to access as a comparable in-person event might. Podcasts are generally released for free and must rely on advertisers or other patrons to bring in money.
The benefits of a podcast
Being audio-only brings with it some advantages to the podcast format. It takes time to create the graphics assets or to plan out the screen-sharing session that you will use in a webinar. If those features are not necessary to effectively convey the information that you want to convey, then that is time wasted.
Podcasts also put more control into your hands. If a piece of software crashes or there is a hardware problem during a webinar, you have to either fix it on the spot or work around the issue. This means that it is a good idea to have technical support on-site to help deal with these issues should they arise. If the same problem happens while recording a podcast, you can wait until it is fixed and try again. In a live event like a webinar, you may also find yourself caught off guard by an audience question, or perhaps an audience member will cause a disturbance. You may stammer over your words or forget what you were going to say. These problems too can be eliminated or edited out of a podcast.
Because of the requirements for video and audience interaction, webinars are only able to be presented on a few platforms. Podcasts, on the other hand, are available anywhere that audio files are, which includes some of the largest platforms in the world. This means that the potential audience for a podcast is much larger than that of a webinar. This is especially true if you charge for access to a webinar and do not record it for later viewing.
Webinars that are not recorded and made available for free afterwards have another huge disadvantage to podcasts. The larger audience, who can discover and listen to the podcats at any time, will be a continual source of leads long after the podcast is originally uploaded.
Which option should you choose - a podcast or a webinar?
Hopefully, you can see now that the best choice depends on your goals. For teaching a practical skill where audiovisual information is key to reinforcing concepts and audience participation is ideal, then a webinar is the obvious choice. If you want to talk more generically about a topic or feature genuine conversations with an ideal guest, then a podcast will do fine. A good question to ask yourself is whether your primary goal in creating this content is to provide instruction or to generate leads. You can then tailor your presentation to the appropriate format.
If you choose a webinar, you can minimize some of the disadvantages by allowing it to be downloaded after the fact. If you charged for access to the initial viewing, you can still charge for access to the replay. If you choose to charge for the replay, remember that the audience will not be getting the same benefit as they will not be able to interact with the host. The replay should be priced accordingly.
Written by Tristan Pelligrino
Tristan Pelligrino is the Co-Founder of Motion. He’s a serial entrepreneur who started his career as a consultant with large IT companies such as PwC, IBM and Oracle. After getting his MBA, he started and grew one of the fastest video production companies in the country – which was listed on the Inc. 5000. Tristan now enjoys leading the content marketing strategies of some of the most innovative B2B technology companies in the country. You can find him on LinkedIn and Facebook.