Choosing the right webinar platform
When you’re deciding between webinar platforms, the most important factor is likely going to be which features you need in order to deliver your presentation or host your online event. For example, if you’re giving a step-by-step demo of how to use a piece of software, you don’t want to wind up with a webinar service that doesn’t allow screen sharing. Similarly, if you’re expecting questions, it’s a good idea to have some kind of chat capability — or at least a place where people can send you messages during the presentation.
Whatever you plan to host a webinar about, the best webinar platforms for you will usually be the ones that provide the greatest ease of use for both the host and the attendees. Chances are you’ve attended a virtual event or been stuck in a meeting where the slideshow or presentation didn’t work because of technology. In hopes of helping you avoid that fate, we’ve done a bit of homework to help you figure out what you need and choose a webinar platform that has it.
The 3 must-have elements in your webinar platform
As you survey your free webinar platforms, some features are simply dealbreakers. Melissa Kwan is the co-founder and CEO of eWebinar, a platform that provides the tools to turn pre-recorded videos into responsive webinars. She offered her thoughts on what many webinar hosting platforms are doing wrong and how to make the experience more seamless for everyone involved.
- Dependable video and audio streaming. “Because running a live event requires so much bandwidth, the more people you have, the harder it gets,” Kwan explains. Especially if you’re hosting a live webinar you want to make sure that the platform has the means to support whatever size crow you hope to attract. Without dependable audio and video, your audience will miss key information — or just head for the exits.
- An attendee-friendly interface. With many webinar services, Kwan says, “the attendee experience almost feels like an afterthought, like they did not design this for you to have a delightful experience.” In other words, webinar platforms tend to be geared toward the host’s needs, and most of the people involved in the webinar are not the host. So whichever platform you decide on, try it out as an attendee to see if you hate it. If you need to download software to watch the webinar, is it easy to download or a total pain? If there’s talkback capability, is it simple and intuitive?
- The means to create a dynamic presentation. Webinars have the tendency to be incredibly boring if poorly produced. That’s why Kwan says, “[they’re] as good as the energy of the speaker and the value of the concept.” Do your best to set yourself up for success here. If you need your platform of choice to accommodate multiple hosts, make sure it has that capability. Likewise, check to make sure it has screen sharing capabilities or social media integration if you need it.
6 Top Webinar platforms
If you’re looking to spend nothing, your choices boil down to paid platforms that offer a free trial as well as services that are free full-stop, though those usually come with some limitations:
- Zoom: You’ve most likely used Zoom for video conferencing and chats, but its basic (i.e. free) plan can also serve nicely as a venue for your next webinar since it offers almost everything the paid plan does — but with a limit of up to 40 minutes and 100 people. That includes essentials like chat functionality, screen sharing, and recording the proceedings on a local device (only the host’s by default, but the host can enable the feature for others as well). Zoom is also one of the only services that allows for breakout rooms on the free plan. If you need more time, Zoom’s paid plans start at $14.99/month (or $149.90 for the year) and include features like cloud recording and the option to stream to social. It should be noted that if you want to include more than 100 people in your Zoom meeting, it isn’t included in the most basic paid package.
- Google Hangouts: Nice if you can keep it small. You can host live video for up to 25 people for an hour in a Google Hangout. Since it’s browser-based, you and your guests don’t need to download any software to use it, but it is pretty limited in its features. If you want anything beyond basic features like screen sharing and text chat, you’ll likely have to pay for a Google Workspace account and host your webinar through Google Meet. Starting at $7.99/month, that gets you up to 100 guests for up to 24 hours per meeting as well as polls, breakout rooms, a dial-in, and recording to the cloud.
- Youtube Live: Youtube’s live streaming option is a good way to go if you don’t mind your attendees being view-only since there’s no cap on how many people can watch. (Seriously, the whole world can theoretically see it, though you can choose to make your stream a private, invite-only affair if you’re sharing sensitive information, or whatever.) Plus, you’ll walk away with a webinar recording courtesy of Youtube, and the stream is accompanied by a live chat. The downside is that since Youtube Live wasn’t specifically designed for webinars, you’ll have to find a workaround for more advanced features like screen sharing, which could be a dealbreaker depending on what kind of presentation you’re giving.
- Facebook Live: Like Youtube Live and Google Hangouts, Facebook Live doesn’t require software to present or view, and the comments section can double as a Q&A forum. Facebook also provides you with the analytics of your stream so you can view data like how many people watched for how long and how many shares it got. That’s the good. The bad is that the privacy settings for your stream will depend on who you’re friends with as opposed to Youtube or Google, which both allow you to share a private stream or meeting via email. Also, since the stream captures what’s happening via your phone or computer’s camera or mic, screen sharing is difficult. For all of these reasons, Facebook Live is probably most useful for an open Q&A or demonstration where it doesn’t matter who’s watching.
- ezTalks: ezTalks’s free option comes with a number of useful tools the competition doesn’t, including polling and a virtual whiteboard for the webinar creator to write on. In fact, its free tier is probably most comparable to Zoom’s since the main differentiator from the paid tier is the limitation ezTalks puts on its free accounts (also 40 minutes and 100 people max). ezTalks plans start at $12.99 and allow for up to 500 people per meeting with no time limit in addition to all the basics you’d expect like screen sharing, chat, and recording. Based on online reviews, there do seem to be more complaints specifically pertaining to the software’s functionality when compared to other webinar platforms, especially when a user’s internet is unstable.
- eWebinar: eWebinar is an essentially different product from the other services on this list because, unlike the others, it can’t be used for videoconferencing at all. Instead, eWebinar allows you to upload a video of your webinar or presentation and schedule it for regular viewing. In other words, you record and edit your webinar in advance. It simulates the interactivity of a webinar by offering a chat option or sending questions to the host’s email if that’s a more convenient option. The benefits of eWebinar are pretty clear: If you have to give the same presentation (like a pitch or onboarding) over and over, it saves you the hassle of repeating yourself. Even if you’re only giving it once, pre-recording it allows you to make sure it’s polished and your message comes through exactly as you want it. Plus, since the webinar isn’t live, there’s no limit on how many people can watch.
If you’re a casual webinar user or just dipping your toes into the water, the free version of one of the above is likely more than enough to get you started. Regardless of which tools you think you might need, though, it’s worth reiterating that the guiding principles for how you present your webinar should be clarity and watchability. You could have all the integrations and special features you could ever need, but if nobody’s watching, you’ll only be performing for an audience of one.