2021 NCFR Annual Conference—Moving Conference Receptions Virtually

Jennifer Crosswhite, Ph.D., CFLE, Director of Research and Policy Education
/ NCFR Report, Winter 2021

Written with the help of NCFR’s excellent staff: Maddie Hansen, Dawn Cassidy, Rosemary Johnson, Judy Schutz, and Trip Sullivan

Since the pandemic began, I have provided NCFR Report readers updates on the virtual conference process and have documented this historic time for our association. You might have wondered why I have been writing this series of articles. The answer is that Report has long been a place to discover the history of our organization.

I have found myself over the past 8 years returning to old issues of Report to discover NCFR’s history, and I want the future leadership and organization members to continue to rely on Report for that history. In that vein, this article provides updates on the conference-planning process with respect to receptions, including the Newcomers Welcome.

Newcomers Welcome Reception

The Newcomers Welcome reception is designed for anyone attending the conference for the first or second time. The purpose of the event is to help people get acquainted with NCFR leaders and all that the organization has to offer. When we have been in person in prior years, the reception was held in a ballroom during midmorning. Newcomers could easily navigate around the room and visit the tables to learn more about and network with the 10 sections, the NCFR organization, the CFLE program, the Students and New Professionals group, the focus groups, and the journals. Attendees were able to engage in a multitude of networking opportunities and enjoy an amazing brunch!

Then the pandemic hit. We had to quickly identify a way to offer a virtual high-energy networking event. Like the academic sessions, Zoom became an important part of the conference. For the 2020 NCFR Annual Conference, each of the groups that previously had an in-person table was provided its own Zoom link to meet with attendees. Attendees could move in and out of the Zoom meetings to visit each table. A list of tables was provided in Whova so attendees knew what to expect when visiting each Zoom room. With this new setup, the event continued to be high-energy with great networking. The one issue that occurred was that most people went to the first table on the list and followed the order of Zoom rooms listed on Whova rather than randomly selecting Zoom tables as they would during an in-person event. As a result, leaders waiting in Zoom rooms that were further down the list in Whova did not meet any newcomers until halfway through the reception.

For the 2021 NCFR Annual Conference, the Newcomers Welcome continued to use Zoom. This year though, there was only one Zoom link provided and we used breakout rooms. Attendees were all welcomed together at the beginning of the reception and provided an introduction from then-incoming NCFR President Norma Burgess. Dr. Burgess provided instructions to spread out through the tables (breakout rooms) and information on what to expect. Prizes were awarded for those who visited the tables (e.g., access to NCFR webinars, free NCFR 2022 conference registration, a free year of NCFR membership, and American Express gift cards).

CFLE Reception

For more than 30 years, NCFR has hosted an on-site reception for the Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) program at the NCFR conference. It’s always a popular and happy event that provides an opportunity for CFLEs to meet face-to-face to network, celebrate the successes of the program, and recognize committee and board members.

Holding the 2020 CFLE Reception virtually required quite a pivot from the face-to-face event. But it also provided the opportunity for CFLEs who had never attended the NCFR conference, or the CFLE Reception, to participate because all active CFLEs, even if they weren’t registered for the NCFR Conference, were allowed to attend the reception. While it wasn’t quite the same, the event continued to be engaging, interactive, and fun!

The CFLE Advisory Board did a great job of hosting an event that closely followed the agenda of the on-site reception. The inclusion of polls and breakout rooms ensured that everyone had a chance to interact. Because of the success of the online format of the 2020 reception, the 2021 reception largely followed the same format.

President’s Reception

The President’s Reception is the first full-member reception of the conference. In person, the reception is held in a large ballroom where everyone gathers for hors d’oeuvres and networking. The first poster session opens during this time, so attendees can mingle and view posters. The NCFR Board members are also present to welcome attendees to the reception.

When the pandemic hit, NCFR staff wondered, How are we going to host this amazing networking event virtually? As with everything else, we looked to Zoom. We designed a reception with seven separate Zoom links—five Zoom links with two board members in each room, a Zoom link for Wiley Publishing, and one open Zoom room for spontaneous networking. The Whova page featured a video introduction from NCFR President Leigh Leslie welcoming attendees to the reception, and attendees could move between rooms. There wasn’t a program per se, but the board members had conversation starters to break the ice with visiting attendees. Conference survey responses indicated that the networking could be improved and that the open Zoom room wasn’t useful.

In everything we do, we strive to enhance the experience of our attendees. For the 2021 NCFR Annual Conference, there was one Zoom link for the President’s Reception. This year, we used breakout rooms in Zoom, which allowed attendees to easily move between breakout rooms. There were six breakout rooms—five rooms for the NCFR Board and one room for Wiley Publishing representatives. This valuable networking opportunity allowed attendees to get up close and personal with board members in a more intimate, less formal manner.

University Reception

The University Reception is one of the most highly attended receptions during the conference. This reception is an opportunity for programs and universities to highlight themselves to prospective students and employees, and to reconnect with their alumni. There are typically anywhere between 25–32 universities represented during the reception. This high-energy reception offers networking opportunities and great food. The exhibits are opened this time, but no other sessions are scheduled concurrently during this 2-hour event. People are always excited to attend the University Reception, and it is always highly rated.

Determining how to move this high-energy, much-loved reception online was a challenge. The solution in 2020 was to provide a Zoom link to each of the 16 universities that participated in the reception. A list of all participating universities was provided in the conference platform Whova. Attendees could choose a university to visit from the list and move in and out of Zoom rooms as they desired during the 2-hour event. University and program representatives could use breakout rooms as they were talking with visitors. The University Reception experienced the same type of struggles as the Newcomers Welcome in that most attendees went to the first university listed. Few attendees visited the universities further down the list.

The University Reception was changed in 2021 to provide more exposure to all the universities. There was one main Zoom link where all representatives and attendees congregated. The reception was emceed this year by Jennifer Doty, SNP Board Representative, who welcomed attendees, introduced each university, and provided instructions for attendees. Each university had 1 minute to share information about its program and to encourage people to visit its individual breakout room. This year, people were asked to spread out and to not all visit one breakout room at the same time. During the last 10 minutes of the reception, everyone was invited back to the main room, where prize winners were announced. This year’s prizes included a three-night hotel stay during the 2022 NCFR Annual Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, an NCFR conference registration, and an NCFR membership.

Legacy Circle

The Legacy Circle is a reception for those who have been a member of NCFR for over 25 years. The reception typically provides champagne, sparkling apple juice, and fantastic desserts. It is one of the last receptions, held in the evening, so all can relax and mingle with one another. The amazing Cindy Winter, who has been with NCFR for 57 years, plays the piano at the beginning of the event. The current NCFR President then introduces the new members of the Legacy Circle. Often, memory books are shared and the event occasionally includes some NCFR trivia. It is a fan favorite event for those who attend.

In 2020, we wanted to ensure that Legacy Circle members were able to continue networking and visiting with their NCFR family. The reception was held through Zoom and used breakout rooms. Leigh Leslie, the current NCFR President, started the program by introducing the new Legacy Circle members. A game of NCFR trivia was held—which started quite the discussion of our history! One of the best parts of the event was that some Legacy Circle members who haven’t been able to attend NCFR in years were able to attend again. It was wonderful to see their faces.

This reception was truly a hit. Because it worked out so well, the 2021 Legacy Circle format remained the same. Only this time, the trivia questions and answers were crowdsourced by our members.


The pandemic has been a challenge for us all. Moving a high-energy conference with 1,256 attendees online has required many conversations. The NCFR staff hopes that you have found the receptions to remain highly engaging and full of networking opportunities, and to see you in-person again for the 2022 NCFR Annual Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.