The Future of Events: A Conversation with Dave Merrell


During our recent webinar with David Merrell of AOO Events, David discussed the pivot over to virtual events and how he has transitioned his business model to meet the needs of the current climate.

It was such a great session that addressed the topic of virtual events, with many questions from attendees answered during the conversation. As a follow up to the webinar, David took the time to answers some of the additional questions we received and we have listed them below along with the webinar recording.

What do you see in the world of incentive events/travel and how that will change today and in the future?

Right now, it seems the incentive events business is on hold.  Most corporations that do incentives are still holding out for something physical to attend, but they will all come around.  The reality is, corporations still need to incentivize their employees and agents.  The incentive world will need to either cancel incentives until there is anti-virus or go to some type of virtual product.  There are still things that can be done to pivot and incentivize.  The long term prognosis is that human experience and face to face communication will never be replaced.  Incentives will come back alive. . . . . I predict in the future that there could still be a virtual experience that might be utilized for lower-tier qualifiers, that corporations might very well incorporate as an incentive to next time qualify for the “live” incentive.

Who do you recommend to venues to go hybrid?

Hybrid does not seem to be sustainable financially long term for venues.  After all, you make your money from the F&B and in many cases the door entry fee.  But a solution in the short term might be to let the clients, who are paying for the cancellation fees on those venues, to do a smaller event that perhaps they broadcast out to a larger audience.  The venue would be a GREAT partner by  “softening the blow”  of this cancellation fee by allowing some of that $ to be re-cooped and is offering a solution for the event to still happen.  This of course fully depends on whether the rules on social distancing are allowed in the particular geographic area you are in!  Long term, the possibility of hybrid events will come up more as corporations that are forced into it actually see the benefit!  As long as the venue is able to technically support that possibility, that would be a big selling point.

Hey Sandy and David, thank you for putting this together. My company mostly does corporate catering in Vegas, ranging from 50-20,000 people. Do you foresee events coming back to this level, and if so, how long do you believe this would take?

YES, it will be back to this level.  However, it won’t happen at large levels of gathering until there is a vaccine or a strong anti-viral as corporations are not going to want the liability and (more importantly) the bad PR.  For now, find your revenue from other sources, as you will be “back in business” with bigger events once we are on the other side of this… ..the big question…when will we be on the other side?

How can venues offer a virtual experience to host events for clients? do you think its worth venues getting involved in offering clients these services?

Unless you make your money off of tech, you most likely won’t want to consider this as a long term strategy.  However, there is value to being able to broadcast to a live audience. If you have the ability to accommodate that, through technology, platforms, or incredible band with, it is worth considering.  If the technology infrastructure already exists, by all means, activate!

Have you found a workaround for broadcasting recorded copyrighted music?

No, and the more you are broadcasting online, the more you record, the more you are being watched.  So there is no workaround for it.

Hey David – Great “seeing” you here. I’d love to talk about how can we not be shamed when producing live/hybrid events again as that’s what I’m finding right now with cities reopening & the fear of contracting the virus is still very real.

Anyone shaming right now seems to be basing their beliefs on an uninformed political stance should.  I say ignore.  There is no reasoning for that.  The only stance we should take is simply that we have a responsibility for the safety and health of the attendees of the events that we produce.   If the social distancing rules in your geographical area allow some amount of guests to gather in person, then it is our responsibility is to make sure it is within the guidelines set by the local government.

Sad that we don’t have a national standard.  It is what will prevent us from healing and getting back to business sooner.

Live gala shows, incentive trips, sales conferences, product launches, etc. still have to happen and still need engagement with their audience.  So even if we cannot have anyone meet in person, we still have virtual options to accomplish the event goals.  It’s our job.  Live, Virtual, or Hybrid.   It’s what we do.  Right?

Any suggestions on how to differentiate your virtual event so people are inclined to join? I know there are a lot of complaints about “Zoom fatigue” and questions around how we can make virtual events more engaging?

There are a LOT of ways to make a virtual event or meeting interesting and avoid “Zoom fatigue.” It starts with thoughtful programming.  This refers to the creative thought process that a producer and director mentality would have.  The best way to deliver your message within a different set of parameters.  It is important that we look at these events with a different lens and expectation than a live event.   Even so, virtual events can be just as impactful as live.

Creating a broadcast-quality TV show with exclusive content to your audience makes a big impression.  Easily done, as the same parameters we use to create live produced shows would apply here. However, virtual allows us a few more tricks that you cannot get through a live experience.  Even if you don’t do an upgraded quality production, there are tons of tricks that are still available for impact virtually.   Effectively produced and exclusive entertainment that can literally reach out and touch each person in the virtual event.    There are a LOT of additional things you can do to engage and excite guests, including a bunch of external “touchpoints” that can make a big impression.  Our Virtual Engagement Strategies product AOO Events just launched addresses this comprehensively!

Check it out by clicking here to watch the video.  IF you have more interest, PLEASE contact us to get more in-depth! 

virtual events


I’d love to hear some discussion on both virtual events and outdoor events. It seems that people are getting a little weary of virtual. What are some ideas for combating that weariness and “virtual overload”?

The COVID-19 virus is at the very least giving us the opportunity to explore virtual events and see what works and what doesn’t.  And there is a LOT you can do with a virtual event to make sure the “fatigue” isn’t a thing.   The good news is, LIVE events will never be replaced.

If you can have an outdoor event that can be properly socially distanced and everyone is safe, then that is a solution to a GREAT event. . . .we don’t live in that world of acceptable social distancing presently. It is easier to explore outdoor event options here in southern California where we know if and when it will rain with plenty of notice, versus other areas where the weather is less predictable.  The outdoor concept of a drive-in movie theater being leveraged for a movie, a concert, a presentation where you need AV to get the sound and images to many people AND they are safe within their cars…but even that, at present, is subject to social distancing rules that vary from state to state.

There are a LOT of additional things you can do to engage and excite guests virtually.  Our Virtual Engagement Strategies product AOO Events just launched addresses this comprehensively!

What should venues be focusing on now that different states are going backward?

Until the country applies the same rules to all areas, we will continue to have flare-ups.  Regardless of political motivation, COVID-19 doesn’t know borders.  So, unfortunately, as long as someone is not following the safety guidelines recommended by CDC, there will continue to be flare-ups.  In my area, they say that phase 4 is when we will be able to open back up for public gatherings. It’s sad that we are currently slipping back into phase 1 and 2.  I say, hunker down, be vocal about everyone following CDC guidelines, and hope that human nature is not the only factor keeping us safe.

What do you recommend as a freelance event manager? I, unfortunately, don’t have staff so that I could offer technical and other staff for virtual events “just” from my business. Of course, I know the suitable staff and can include that in my offer, but it feels that agencies with all staff in-house will be preferred over me. Like they would rather hire a tech-production company and leave the event organizer out because they take someone from their corporate company to take over this part. 

I disagree with your prospects here.  I believe there will be a LOT of need for what you do freelance. .although I am not certain of your area of expertise.  The reality of this is, the companies in our industry that do come back, as well as internal event departments within corporations, are going to have to cut staff.  The freelance model, where they don’t have to pay unless there is work, is going to be uber important!  Go to the folks that know you, and your work ethic and work skills, and start by letting them know you are available!  (don’t expect an immediate response as companies everywhere STILL don’t know what they are doing in response to COVID-19 and the business is still “falling off”)

The biggest thing that attracts people to events is the networking/interactive aspect of it, how can we leverage the virtual world to make events interactive and allow your attendees to the network?

Even if the simplest of virtual platforms, they are set up for communication to be happening between attendees.  First, give them time. . . .time to make these connections. .time to have the conversations.  So, adding a reception or afterparty and encouraging folks to stay beyond the program would help that. There are also tricks that you can incorporate within the large groups and especially breakout rooms that can help a person to get “noticed”. . . which comes from creating the space, curating conversations, and thoughtfully curating who you set up to talk with whom.  There are a LOT of ways to do it, please contact AOO Events/me if you want to hear more.

Do you think clients have grounds to get their money back from a venue if the city’s rules prohibit events at the date of the event?

That is a “Force Majeure” situation I would guess, but it does seem to me that this particular reasoning won’t have a lot of legal basis… .and I am NOT a lawyer, so I am going to leave this to better-qualified folks.


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