Q&A with David Merrell: Event Design for Allseated exVo Forward Together


After the twists and turns of 2020, we know everyone is craving to be together again—while simultaneously looking forward to the future.

What better way to combine the two and come together than throw a (virtual) party for a good cause?! (By the way, we raised $7K for the Search Foundation, which provides financial help for events, meetings, and catering professionals in crisis.)

That’s exactly how the idea of the Allseated exVo Forward Together 2021 started to come together, said David Merrell, CEO & Creative Director, AOO Events

“We started conceptualizing the event in mid-October – just before the election, with no real understanding of where the world stood regarding COVID,” said Merrell. “It was a highly anxious time for everyone, and all we did know is that the live events, meetings, and convention industries stood by with a massive question mark over their heads.”

With Merrell serving as the lead creative behind Forward Together 2021, we sat down for a Q&A about virtual event design and what the industry has to look forward to this year. 

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Tell us more about how Forward Together came together, and explain the goals in bringing the industry together?   

Let’s be honest – I miss seeing my friends and family in the industry. I could use a little virtual love right about now. And we can all agree that our industry can use a break – and even a little joy too. I’m guessing everyone else feels the same way.

That’s why we started thinking about bringing everyone together. One of the first ideas was a nod to what we had just come from, kind of like a rear-view mirror in an automobile. In it was the image of a tornado breaking up big “2020”  block letters and leaving a path of destruction behind it.  

Funny and true. But not necessarily positive.

In March of 2020, fellow Allseated ambassador Michael Cerbelli of Cerbelli Creative launched a new hashtag, #strongertogether, on stage while presenting The Hot List on that last day of The Special Event convention before we all flew back home to our ever-lasting quarantine.  

As a take-off of Michael’s message, we thought “Forward Together” was the positive message the industry needed. To me, it means that…as an industry…as a family…we will get through this, we will do it together and will be stronger and smarter on the other side. 

Once we had our mission to create those connections we’re all missing so much, hosting the event in Allseated’s new exVo platform was a clear no-brainer. The platform would help us create an experience that everyone could simply enjoy.

With the platform’s sleek virtual design and interactive capabilities, all the pieces came together. And by the way, it also served as the perfect launch for a VERY cool tool the events and meeting industry could utilize right now! I’m convinced once everyone experiences exVo, they’ll agree that live virtual events do have a place in the future as well.

allseated exvo

What are some of the unique challenges in creating engaging virtual designs—and how is exVo structured to address those challenges?

Designing and producing Forward Together has been an absolute blast to be a part of! 

One of the reasons I jumped at the chance to work on this event is that I could see how this platform is NOT the same ‘ole virtual event.’ There is NOTHING even close to this experience on the market currently. 

One of the reasons creating engaging virtual events and fostering engagement is a challenge is virtual attendees have a unique set of distractions. You can’t expect them to stay engaged for as long as they would if they were actually in person. Shorter, more impactful programs will still land properly where they need to. 

Because exVo is an entirely immersive experience, much like a video game, it compels guests to stay involved. It’s a virtual world that runs completely parallel to the real world. The big difference with exVo is that it legitimately satisfies all the goals of a live event. It can be impactful, engaging, memorable, and can completely represent your brand, products, and messaging. Every opportunity that a sponsor or stakeholder needs to be involved in exists within the platform. 

allseated exvo

What are a few watch-outs/lessons learned from 2020 that planners should keep in mind as they think about virtual events going forward?

As I mentioned before, virtual users’ distractions can’t be ignored. You do not have undivided attention. Shorter programs, more impactful, and more personalized content is the way to go. 

Plus, you don’t have to keep your event to just three days if you aren’t flying there. Consider extending your pre-event marketing and promotions leading up to the main events, and then more virtual promotions on the backside of the events.

What types of virtual events planners should be thinking about for 2021?

These are the top event ideas that corporations and corporate planners are asking us to create in the live virtual event world:

  • Team Building events (internal events)

  • Socializing events (internal and outward reaching)

  • Awards shows

  • Fundraisers

  • Think-tank conferences

But it doesn’t stop there. Right now, we’re working on completely recreating – virtually — a corporate sales 3-day conference for 800 guests that we designed and produced a year ago in-person. Every aspect is getting a virtual refresh:

  • Lobby, check-in, and concierge services

  • Networking lounges with a vendor exhibiting area  where attendees can interact with preferred vendors

  • A ballroom with a general session stage that will have multiple general sessions, keynote speakers, and a gala awards dinner

  • An opening reception event to set the tone for the week

  • Breakout sessions in the form of round table discussions, theater seating with presenter interaction, and one on one meeting pods

  • A VIP Honor store with high-end premiums and gifts for top salespersons to shop for their gifts

  • An IT shop where you can virtually meet with a technician to improve your work computer operation

  • Lunch and break rooms

Now, with a platform like exVo, all these events can exist virtually, with a significant impact on the intended audience.

Want more of Merrell’s candid insight about the Forward Together 2021 event design? Watch the on-demand webinar chat

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Interested to learn more about exVo, the fully-integrated and immersive virtual event dimension? Join us to explore exVo in an upcoming tour!


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