May 13, 2021
Hosting Virtual Meetings and Services:
Tips for Keeping CAC Partners and Participants Engaged
The movement of in-person activities to a virtual environment is one of many ways the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the daily activities of children’s advocacy centers (CACs). From hosting online meetings to offering telehealth services, video conferencing platforms allow us to convene easily with staff, multi-disciplinary team (MDT) colleagues, and clients across distances and from our homes and private offices. However, it can be challenging to translate in-person activities to a virtual environment and keep participants engaged. As a fully remote team, WRCAC has compiled lessons over the past year on hosting effective and engaging virtual meetings and trainings that we share here to assist you in successfully navigating and leveraging virtual space to best serve your CAC.

For more tips on hosting specific CAC and MDT activities in a virtual environment, check out the following resources: 

Experts suggest that tele-forensic interviewing (tele-FI) is an effective and legally defensible alternative to face-to-face interviewing when appropriate guidelines are followed and external factors that could impact the reliability of the children's testimony are effectively addressed.

You will need to log into the National Children’s Advocacy Center Virtual Training Center (VTC) to enroll in and view this course. If you don’t already have an account, create one for free here.

MDT facilitation and coordination presents unique challenges on the best of days, let alone during crisis. On this episode Tony speaks with Greg Flett of the National Children's Advocacy Center about the role of the team facilitator, what coordinating MDTs looks like, and how to approach this role during COVID-19.

The WRCAC TMHRC provides information and access to current resources regarding telemental health, with an emphasis on the unique needs of CACs. Our most recent Telemental Health Issue Brief, featured on the home page of the TMHRC, includes tips on effectively implementing telemental health in a CAC environment

You can also browse WRCAC’s 2021 Training Menu, which includes virtual opportunities that are learner-centered and take advantage of the technological tools and opportunities for peer engagement that come with online learning.
Tips for Virtual Engagement

Select a platform. The first step in hosting a successful virtual meeting, training or service is selecting a platform that meets your needs and that all participants feel comfortable using. The type of service you are providing and your security requirements will likely dictate which platform you choose (e.g., HIPAA-compliant Zoom might work best for Case Review meetings). WRCAC has primarily used Zoom to provide virtual training and technical assistance, and we have integrated Zoom with other platforms to increase engagement when needed. 

Assign roles. Unlike in-person meetings, virtual meetings require attention to technical elements of the event that can be complicated for the trainer or meeting facilitator to manage on top of delivering content and engaging participants. For this reason, it is helpful, and sometimes necessary, to have a second staff member participate in the virtual event whose role is to manage those technical pieces. On WRCAC’s team, we call this the “producer” role. The producer is responsible for setting up the meeting platform, enabling the necessary features, and providing technical support to staff and participants during the live event. When we utilize Zoom, the producer is also responsible for managing features such as the waiting room, breakout rooms, polls and recording, as well as providing links and instructions to participants via the chat. It is beneficial to have the producer host a practice session with staff prior to the live event, so that everyone understands the flow of the event and feels confident with features they will use, such as screen sharing. This practice session is also a great time to establish a contingency plan in case of unexpected technical difficulties or staff absences. This plan may include how you will communicate with participants in the event of technical difficulties, how staff should troubleshoot if they have a poor connection, and how event materials such as slide decks should be shared so that all staff have access.

Use engagement tools. Once you have everything in place to run a smooth virtual event, consider how the tools available in your selected platform can be utilized to increase participant engagement and make your event more dynamic. For example, your video conferencing platform may include some out-of-the-box features that can increase engagement during the event, such as the following that are available with basic Zoom accounts and many other videoconferencing platforms: 

  • Breakout Rooms – Breakout rooms allow participants to be split into separate small groups for discussion. You can utilize this feature to facilitate icebreakers, peer sharing, and small-group activities; you can also assign participants to breakout rooms based on topics of interest.

  • Polling – Multiple-choice poll questions are a great way to gather and share information about your participants, and are particularly helpful for collecting opinions or information that participants may be more comfortable sharing anonymously; polls can also be used to for quick quizzes or “pulse checks” that help you determine how well your participants are absorbing the content.

  • Reactions – Utilizing reaction icons or emojis allows participants to provide responses and feedback without unmuting.

  • Chat – You can encourage participants to utilize the chat box to introduce themselves, share resources, or ask and answer questions.

  • Whiteboard/Annotations – These tools allow participants to add text and markings to content being shared on the screen; you can gather ideas from the group or have them engage creatively with an image or text. 

Expand your engagement toolkit. If your videoconferencing platform doesn’t fully meet your needs, leverage free collaborative tools, such as Google Docs, to create digital materials to foster participant engagement. For example, create a Google Doc and share it as a link in chat before participants go into breakout rooms. While in the breakout rooms, your participants will be able to type their notes on the Google Doc and share them out with the larger group, similar to the function of poster paper during in-person events. (For tips on utilizing Google Docs during your virtual events, click here) If you are interested in gameification or more advanced question types, consider utilizing a platform such as Mentimeter, Kahoot!, or Poll Everywhere, that you can launch within your virtual event. You may also choose to utilize a survey platform such as Alchemer, SurveyMonkey, or FormAssembly, to create evaluation forms that you can link to in the chat. Whichever tools you decide to use, it’s always a good idea to test them during the practice session to ensure they work as expected. 

Set participant expectations. In addition to utilizing virtual tools during the event, you’ll want to consider how you set expectations for engagement prior to the event. Sharing an agenda with your participants before the event helps them know what to expect in terms of content, activities, and breaks. It is also helpful to communicate to participants ahead of time if you’d like them to have their cameras on, or if you want each participant to join via their own device (a good rule of thumb is one person per device). During this time of “Zoom fatigue,” it is important to be mindful of participants’ attention spans and personal needs. Consider how you can break up “heavier” portions of the event with small breaks, or which pieces can be assigned as pre-work or post-work. You can also compile content that you would typically have in a slide deck (graphics, resources, handouts, etc.) into a PDF “guide” that participants can print out or view on a second screen, allowing you to minimize screen sharing and engage more directly with participants.

If you have any questions about the platforms, practices, or engagement tools mentioned above, you can reach out me, Madison Stark, at Thank you for all that you do to maintain high-quality services for the children and families you serve, both in-person and online!
Madison Stark
Training & Communications Coordinator
Western Regional Children's Advocacy Center
Madison Stark served two years with AmeriCorps after graduating with a bachelor’s in biology in 2017, implementing programs targeted towards youth who have experienced adversity. A passion for trauma-informed practices and public health led her to the Chadwick Center in 2019, where she serves as a Training & Communications Coordinator on the WRCAC team. Madison brings her experience in grants, technology, and non-profit communications to this role to facilitate behind-the-scenes logistics for WRCAC’s trainings and webinars. Madison will be pursuing her Master of Social Work degree in the fall of 2021. 
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WRCAC is funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Grant #2019-CI-FX-K002

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.