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Virtual or Real? Reality Bites!

Virtual or Real? Reality Bites!

/ Technology
Virtual or Real? Reality Bites!

Virtual events have advanced significantly in creativity, engagement and effectiveness.

See what I did there? Or not.

The title of this column is a reference to a movie that will likely strike a chord in the hearts of Gen X readers everywhere. For those of you who aren’t of the Gen X variety, consider this yet another history lesson from yours truly.

“Reality Bites” is the title of a 1994 movie that is focused on the lives of four friends who recently graduated from college and share a house in Houston. The actors are kind of like the 1990s version of Hollywood’s 1980s “Brat Pack,” but with a little less angst and a little more talent. “Reality Bites” documents life for Generation X young adults in the 1990s and deals with some of the issues that plagued young people at that time.

The movie didn’t do that well when it was first released, although there were a few standout performances from up-and-comer actors such as Ethan Hawke and Winona Ryder. Interestingly, in the years following the initial release of the film, it has achieved cult status as one of the films that truly captured the reality of the early 1990s for Generation Xers.

Gen Xers were the first generation to live in the virtual world of cyberspace as the early 1980s saw the price of computers drop to the point of affordability for most households. The Gen Xers were the first latchkey generation, and cyberspace was often where they spent their free time after school and weekends. Over time, expectations regarding the virtual world have continued to grow, and generations subsequent to Gen X have expectations of the virtual world that are equally high or higher.

Over the past 18 months, the virtual world has had to replace much of the real world in many aspects of the contact center industry. Most noticeable was the pivot from live customer conferences to virtual events in 2020. To be fair, the industry had to hustle last year to come up with some sort of alternative to their live customer events and kudos should be given to the companies that were able to pull off any kind of virtual customer conference at all.

2021, however, turned out to be a different animal from 2020 when it comes to customer conferences. This year there was more time to plan, more time to think through what a virtual conference should look like, and perhaps get creative in terms of how a virtual conference could be presented.

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend several live NICE Interactions customer conferences in the past, and they have always been pretty spectacular events. Not surprisingly, Interactions 2021 was a virtual event, but it was unlike any virtual event I’ve attended in the past. When it was all over, I became a virtuality convert. Compared to the virtual NICE Interactions Live 2021 conference, reality bites!

Christine McGovern

I recently virtually visited with NICE’s Director of Global Events, Christine McGovern, to find out how NICE Interactions Live 2021 came to fruition and uncover the thought processes that went into creating this very unique virtual event.

Stockford: Christine, how long have you been involved with NICE’s customer conference?

McGovern: I started working on NICE events in 2002. This one started out as a small executive summit and has continued to grow organically since then to what it has become today.

Stockford: What were your objectives for Interactions Live this year?

McGovern: It was important for Interactions to maintain its sense of a community with the ability to network with peers, retaining the same depth of rich content that is driven by our customer speakers.

The first thing I wanted to do was maintain the feeling of community that we’ve built over the years. Our live events typically started with a 5K run/walk or something that could get our attendees involved in the event before it actually started. In our virtual world this year, we had a step challenge where attendees downloaded a special app before the event and met challenges in areas such as the number of steps, social media engagement, and so on. Participants got points for raffles and prizes, which provided a sense of engagement and commonality with all attendees even though they were spread out all over the world.

Unlike many of the virtual events of this last year, Interactions Live provided over 60 LIVE breakout sessions. By hosting these sessions live, we were able to keep attendees engaged and interactive through surveys, polls and Q&A sessions.

Stockford: How did that work in terms of attracting attendees?

McGovern: We had about 25,000 registered attendees globally, so mission accomplished!

Stockford: I was really impressed with (NICE CEO) Barak Eilam’s keynote presentation at Interactions Live. It was extremely well done, informative and entertaining. What’s the backstory here?

McGovern: People have actually told us that it looked like Pixar worked on Barak’s presentation! That keynote took months to create from start to finish. Our newly appointed CMO, Einat Weiss, is the driving force behind the creative, with Barak very much engaged in the process. We wanted it to be creative and engaging, providing attendees with a memorable keynote experience.

Stockford: You definitely accomplished that. I personally experienced a career first as a speaker at Interactions Live. It was the first time in my career that I’ve been introduced for my session by a Hollywood A-Lister! How did that come about?

McGovern: We wanted to do something different in terms of a host this year. We wanted a host that would be present throughout the entire event and tie it all together. We also wanted a recognizable personality who was contemporary and currently popular. That’s how we came up with James Corden as our celebrity host. NICE is all about the experience!

Stockford: It couldn’t have been easy to get him booked for this gig!

McGovern: Right, but one of the benefits of COVID, so to speak, is that people like James Corden, who would never have been available to host an event like ours due to his schedule in pre-COVID times, was available. He was stuck in his home office like the rest of us. So he recorded his commentary and introductions and became another virtual feature of our virtual event.

Stockford: I thought the introduction he did for my session was hilarious. Did he introduce all the speakers?

McGovern: He introduced all the keynotes and a select group of breakout sessions, like yours, but he was present in every track in one way or another.

Stockford: I remember the customer appreciation event at Omnia, Caesar’s Palace at Interactions in 2019. It was a lot of fun. How did you come up with a virtual version of that event?

McGovern: Coincidentally, we had another casino-related event this year, but virtual, of course. For our virtual Casino Night and we had groups of 15 attendees at each virtual table, interacting with a live dealer and with each other. They played blackjack and roulette, and when the organized activities were over, I was happy to see people staying at their tables and engaging with each other.

The other similar activity was the awards ceremony. We were able to virtually bring each winner up to the virtual stage to receive their award. Everything was in real-time, so we even had customers on the other side of the globe staying up in the middle of the night so they could attend. Attendees were sitting at virtual tables of six people, and they could talk to each other as they watched the award ceremony. It was truly interactive.

Stockford: You went big with the closing activities, too, with Tom Brady providing a keynote followed by comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, who did a 40-minute live set from Los Angeles.

McGovern: Yes, we pulled out all the stops, just like we do for a live event.

Stockford: It was definitely a memorable experience for me. For those who missed Interactions Live, it is now available on-demand at Interactions Live 2021|NICE.

Since you have to start thinking about Interactions 2022 already, I’m going to help you out with a suggested theme for next year’s event. How’s this:

“Interactions Live 2022: Go Big or Go Home!”

You’re welcome.


Did you know columnist Paul Stockford is also the editor of In Queue, the monthly newsletter of the National Association of Call Centers? Get your free subscription and read more of his provocative commentary every month!

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Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford served as Chief Analyst at Saddletree Research, which specialized in contact centers & customer service, from 1999-2022.
Twitter: @PaulStockford

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