Webinars vs. Online Meetings: The Key Differences and When to Use What

Gavin M.
Gavin M.
Differences Between Webinars and Online Meetings
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The rise of software tools for online communication and collaboration has made it possible to connect people from all over the world. With this technology, there are more options than ever before. Two of the most popular methods today are meetings and webinars – but what is the difference between them?

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Let’s bring light to the dark and see how they differentiate, as well as when each one is best suited.

What Is an Online Meeting?

An online meeting is a virtual gathering where people from different locations can come together and collaborate. The purpose of an online meeting is to facilitate discussion, exchange ideas, and/or make decisions. As such, everyone in the meeting has the ability to talk, listen, and contribute.

If your company is one of many that switched over to Zoom or Google Meet during the pandemic instead of having a discussion at an office, you've already experienced an online meeting.

What Is a Webinar?

A webinar is a type of online seminar or presentation. Picture it as the virtual version of an auditorium filled with people watching a presentation from the front of the room. The presenter is in charge of the webinar, and they will usually run through a predetermined agenda.

To prevent disruptions, webinar attendees are typically unable to interact with the presenter directly unless the presenter allows it by unmuting them. Instead, they can use the chat or Q&A features to ask questions or make comments. The presenter will see the messages and can address them at their discretion.

What Are the Differences between the Two?

Now that you know what a meeting and webinar is, let's look at the key differences between them.

Difference Between Webinars and Online Meetings Illustration

Audio & Video Sharing

The most obvious difference between a meeting and a webinar is audio and video sharing. In an online meeting, all participants can share their video or audio feeds with the other call members. This allows for conversations to happen in real time, making it possible to discuss topics in greater detail.

Conversely, webinars direct all viewers' attention to the presenter(s), who are usually the only ones who can share their audio and video. Panelists, or special guests, can also be allowed to share their audio and video.

In both cases, the quality of the audio and video depends on the capabilities of the tool being used.

Room Capacity

The reasoning for this limit is that webinars are usually intended to be watched by a large group of people at once. Generally speaking, the number of attendees in a meeting will range from 2-20, although the platform can handle more. Webinars can range from 10 - 50,000 viewers. You can imagine how all those people sharing their audio and video feeds simultaneously would be overwhelming.

These limits don't account for live streaming, where the presenters broadcast their webinars on another platform like YouTube, Twitch, or Facebook Live. Those who watch on these alternate platforms won't have the same interactive ability as those who join the webinar directly.

Also, the list of attendees will be different for each platform. Meeting participants are typically visible to everyone on the call, although you can hide your name or video if needed. For webinars, only the presenter and panelists can see who is attending.

Messaging and Chat

The messaging options are also usually different. During a meeting, all participants can chat with each other in real time. That includes private messages between two people or group chats.

During a webinar, viewers cannot interact with each other privately. What they can do is send messages to the presenter via the chat or Q&A feature. Some platforms allow you to tinker with the settings and allow attendees to chat with each other, although it isn't recommended in most cases.

Both options offer "reactions", or emojis, that participants can use to express their opinions without typing. It reduces the clutter of messages and can help keep the conversation on track.

Breakout and Waiting Rooms

Two dominant features present in meetings are breakout rooms and waiting rooms. Breakout rooms let you create smaller virtual spaces for more intimate conversations. This feature can be useful when working on projects or brainstorming ideas.

For example, you can start a meeting with everyone in the same room and then split them into separate rooms to work on different tasks. Not all webinar platforms offer this feature, but it is possible to find some. You can use our Comparison Tool to compare webinar software based on this feature.

Breakout Rooms Illustration

Waiting rooms allow you to control who joins your meetings, making them great for private conversations or sensitive topics. In this scenario, all participants will be placed in a waiting room until the host allows them to join the meeting.

The equivalent of a waiting room for webinars is the registration form and live room of a webinar. Viewers must register before joining, providing the presenter with important information about their viewers. The live room (where the webinar takes place) also acts as a waiting room, as attendees can usually open the link to the webinar before it begins, where a countdown timer is often displayed, and useful information is listed before it starts. When the webinar starts, the user is automatically redirected.

Output Channel

It is now common for online meetings to run via desktop or mobile app as well as directly via the internet browser. Instead, webinars usually only take place in the internet browser, so no participant has to download anything beforehand or is otherwise restricted. The reason for this is that participants usually only interact via chat anyway, and it's also easier to redirect users to different pages and track their data.

For example, a user can be redirected directly to a sales page after the webinar, and in terms of tracking, it can be determined exactly when a user entered or exited the webinar.

Practice Sessions

Since webinars are more of a structured presentation, they don't offer the same flexibility as meetings. While it's possible to have an informal webinar where everything is improvised, and the flow of the webinar follows an organic path, it's not very common.

That's why some platforms offer practice sessions for webinars. It's a great way for presenters to get comfortable with the tool and rehearse their presentations without having an audience. You can invite panelists or colleagues to join and provide feedback on the presentation before going live.


The last important difference between meetings and webinars is payment. For most platforms, it is not possible to request a payment through the software before joining a meeting. This integrated solution is often used by consultants or coaches. If not available, an additional step is usually built in or a webinar software is used that can also handle web conferencing and online meetings.

For webinars, it's not uncommon to charge viewers a fee before they can join the webinar. This way, you can monetize your content and even offer exclusive webinars with exclusive content. It's a great way to provide value while also making some extra money on the side. As such, many webinar software come with built-in payment capabilities.

Once the attendee has paid, they'll receive a unique link to join the webinar. You can also restrict access to the number of people who can join the webinar by setting a maximum number of tickets, creating a sense of urgency.

When to Use a Meeting or Webinar Format

When it comes to choosing the right format for your event, there are a few things to consider. A meeting might be the better choice if you're looking for a more informal gathering with lots of room for discussion and questions. Alternatively, a webinar is likely the better option if you're looking for a more structured presentation with a few questions at the end, have a larger audience, and/or require a registration process that allows collecting data.

Here are some common examples for both formats:


  1. 1
    Internal team discussions
  2. 2
    Brainstorming sessions
  3. 3
    Scheduling updates
  4. 4
    Troubleshooting issues
  5. 5
    Status check-ins
  6. 6
    Client calls


  1. 1
    Educational presentations
  2. 2
    Expert interviews
  3. 3
    Interactive workshops
  4. 4
    Product launches and demos
  5. 5
    Q&A sessions

Bottom Line

As you can see, the decision between a meeting and a webinar comes down to the purpose of your event.

What do you want to accomplish? What type of interaction do you need? What kind of experience are you looking to provide for your audience? When a meeting is enough, jump to Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Zoom, or whatever your company uses. If your answer points to a webinar, you'll need software with the right features to make it happen.

In this case, visit our Best Picks for an overview of the best webinar software on the market to get started with the perfect tool by your side.

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Filmmaker turned into marketer and tech geek. Sounds sad, but I absolutely love it. I manage webinars and virtual events to help companies reach new heights and stun their audience.