How to Fill a Toastmasters Meeting Agenda

The cycle starts with editing the agenda (based on the information you have so far), emailing it out, encouraging additional people to sign up online, printing the agenda and the signup sheet, and getting more people to sign up for future weeks during each meeting. For more accurate record keeping, you can also reconcile differences between the agenda and who actually showed up to fill roles.
The cycle starts with editing the agenda (based on the information you have so far), emailing it out, encouraging additional people to sign up online, printing the agenda and the signup sheet, and getting more people to sign up for future weeks during each meeting. For more accurate record keeping, you can also reconcile differences between the agenda and who actually showed up to fill roles.

Here is the process I recommend for making sure you have a full roster of speakers and volunteers for your next meeting, using the tools available through WordPress for Toastmasters.

Step 1: Get People to Sign Up at Your Meetings.

In my experience, you will not get everyone to sign up online, but you can save yourself some work if you can get even a fraction of your members to do so. Because my home club, Club Awesome, is healthy and growing, we have recently seen better participation from people signing up online for speeches — because we have speeches booked several weeks in advance. But we still pass around a paper signup sheet, which you can print from the website (more on that later).

After the meeting, the VP of Education or another officer will use the Edit Signups feature to record the offline signups in the online system.

edit-signups-menu
The “Edit Signups” option is in the menu at the top of the agenda.
Editing role assignments
Editing role assignments

Step 2: Invite Members to Fill the Gaps on the Agenda, Online

Next, email out the agenda. That option is under Agenda on the menu.

cycle2-email-agenda

You will have the opportunity to customize the subject line and add a personal note at the top of the message. What people receive in their email inbox will look something like this.

 

cycle-3-email-prompt

By including a link to the specific agenda we are trying to get people to sign up for, you encourage people to sign up online. Ideally, you want them to come in and click on Take Role.

cycle1-self-service

Some people will instead email you back. That works, too.

In my club, the Toastmaster of the Day is supposed to be responsible for filling all roles (as much as possible) prior to the day of the meeting. Sending another of these email messages, showing the roles that are still open, is one way to do that. Typically, we also wind up making a few phone calls, sending a few texts, whatever is needed to fill out the roster.

We then go back into Edit Signups mode to add the people who didn’t sign up online but let us know through some other channel that we can count them in.

Step 3: Print the Agenda and the Signup Sheet

Click on Agenda (or the Print submenu option) to get a printable version of the agenda. Alternatively, you can click on Export to Word to get a version of the agenda you can edit and format further in Microsoft Word.

cycle-4-print-agenda

Click on Signup Sheet to get a printable signup sheet. The roles that have already been filled by people signing up online (or that you or another officer previously reserved for them) will already be filled in, making it clear which open roles you still want to fill.

cycle-5-signup-sheet

Pass around the signup sheet during your meeting. Repeat Step 1, recording the offline signups and sending out another email inviting people to participate.

Step 4: Reconcile the Agenda with Reality

If you are using the record keeping and reporting features of WordPress for Toastmasters, you or some other club leaders should also be responsible for making notes on how the plan differed from reality. In other words, who signed up but didn’t show up? Who stepped up at the last minute to fill a role?

cycle-6-reconcile

Under the Toastmasters menu on the Administrator’s dashboard, you will find a screen called Reconcile that allows you to reconcile your records with reality. It works a lot like the Edit Signups function, except that you use it to record data on past meetings rather than future ones. Optionally, you can also record who was called on for table topics. If you want to track attendance, you can also do that on this screen.

Extra Credit

It is possible to go a little more paperless with this process by recording edits to the roster online, while you’re at the meeting, using a laptop, an iPad or even a smart phone. I’ve tested the signup form on my phone, and it works pretty well.

YouTube Video Sharing Tool for Toastmasters

The latest update of the WordPress for Toastmasters software includes a tool for publishing speech videos to the club website, publicly or privately, and emailing out links to the videos to club members.

Using this feature is entirely optional, but it’s based on a program that has been popular with my own home club. For several years, we have made a practice of video recording speeches and sharing them with members in “unlisted” status on YouTube. This is a convenient way of sharing videos so members can see how they performed for purposes of self improvement. It also allows club members to view a speech they may have missed, such as the Icebreaker of a new member.

If they did really well, they can give us permission to share the videos publicly — and we are always happy to showcase the talent in our club. Having speech videos on the website also allows prospects members to get a better feeling for the Toastmasters experience and see our members in action, even before their first visit. See Video Tactics for Toastmasters Clubs for more details about how we record and upload the videos.

youtube-toastmasters

You will find the YouTube Toastmasters tool tucked under the Media menu on the WordPress dashboard.

Once you have uploaded your videos into YouTube, you will use this screen to do a sloppy copy-and-paste import of the titles and links from the YouTube website. I usually do this from the the listing of my own videos (https://www.youtube.com/my_videos?o=U), but it seems to work with any listing such as a a screen of YouTube search results.

You copy by holding down the mouse button and dragging it across the relevant titles and video previews as shown below.

Copy from YouTube
Copy from YouTube

Now paste into the editor window under “Paste YouTube content here” (make sure it’s in Visual mode, not Text). The pasted-in content will look jumbled, but all that matters is that you have captured the titles of the videos.

Sloppy paste
Sloppy paste

Farther down on the screen, you will see options asking whether you want to create a blog post, an email broadcast, or both. There are also a series of checkboxes next to the names of club members, which you can check to indicate who is featured in the videos. Their names will be added to the title of the blog post (also used as the preliminary subject line for the email broadcast). The resulting blog post will look something like this.

Video listing on the blog.
Video listing on the blog.

At the bottom of this post, you will see a notice that this post is members-only content. If you decide to make it public, you would edit the post to remove it from the members-only category. But these posts are marked members-only by default.

Members-only notice
Members-only notice

Anyone who tries to view this post without being logged in will see only the headline and a notice that a login is required.

youtube-login-required
Login required notice

As explained in Posting Members-Only Content to the Blog, there are a couple of sidebar widgets available to allow you to distinguish between public content (“Club News”) and members-only content. If a website visitor is not logged in, the members-only posts will not appear in the blog’s main feed.

Members-only widget
Members-only widget

You can use the same content as the basis of an email broadcast. This uses the email list features of RSVPMaker (the calendar plugin that is part of WordPress for Toastmasters). When you preview the email broadcast on the website, it will look something like this. To send the message to all club members (everyone who has a user account on the website), I would click the “Website members” checkbox and then the Send Now button.

If I see something I want to change or fix, or if I want to add a note at the top, I can click edit to revise the message using the WordPress editing tools before sending it out.

Preview of email broadcast
Preview of email broadcast

Here is that same message as it arrived in my email inbox.

Message in email inbox
Message in email inbox

To support the practice of considering these videos to be private information for club members only, I include a policy message or disclaimer at the bottom of each of these messages sharing the videos.

Video policy: speech videos are intended as a tool for speakers to see their own performances and think about how they can improve. Even though these are on YouTube, they are published as “unlisted” by default, meaning they won’t show up in search results. Don’t forward these links or post them on Facebook or in any other forum without the speaker’s permission. From time to time, we may ask a speaker for permission to use a video as part of our marketing of the club. Volunteers are also welcome – if you’re proud of a particular speech, let us know.

I’ve included some of this boilerplate language as a default, but you can modify it however you would like. If you make changes, the software will remember your settings for next time.

Note: until recently I would simply copy and paste the output from the tool into GMail and send it out to our club’s mailing list. That works, too. However, as a lazy person, I am always looking for ways to automate processes, and this saves a few steps.

Let me know if you find this useful.

Moving Your Club Website from WordPress.com to WordPress for Toastmasters

WordPress.com's data export feature
WordPress.com’s data export feature

Lots of Toastmasters clubs already had a WordPress site, long before I came along. The information below is adapted from an email reply to an inquiry from a club officer who was very interested in adopting the WordPress for Toastmasters software but wanted to make sure she would not lose years worth of club blog posts to a WordPress.com account.

The trick is that WordPress comes in a few different flavors. Like many web developers, I take advantage of the open source software distributed through WordPress.org, adding my own customizations and running the software on my own server. WordPress.com is an online service based on the same software, run by the company that created the software. Moving from one to the other is very much possible, but there are choices to make.

Here is my reply:

Thanks for getting in touch. I have mostly good news for you.

The only bad news is that WordPress.com does not allow you add 3rd party software to one of the free websites you host with them. So you will have to move to either your own web hosting or to the free service I’m offering to Toastmasters clubs (free means I’m counting on ads and donations to support it over the longer term).

The good news is WordPress makes it fairly easy to export the content from your existing website and import it into a new hosting arrangement. So the new site would have all those blog posts you have invested time and energy in. WordPress.com also offers a redirect service for a small fee that will help people find your new site and preserve whatever search engine ranking you have built up by redirecting from the old blog post urls to the urls on your new hosting.

See https://en.support.wordpress.com/site-redirect/

If your club is willing to budget some money for a website, you might consider setting up hosting at an independent domain. Ballpark cost: $200. The web host just needs to support WordPress and allow you to install your own plugins and themes. (See Hosting Your Own WordPress for Toastmasters Website).

Because setting up your own website hosting does require some investment of money and time spent futzing with technology, I came up with a simpler free solution. That’s the option where you click the “free site” link at wp4toastmasters.com, fill out a form at toastmost.org and get a free website with an address like myclub.toastmost.org. You will find it to be very similar to the WordPress.com environment as a publishing and marketing tool for your club. The difference is you will get access to the Toastmasters-specific plugin and the Toastmasters-branded theme I developed. So it will look like a Toastmasters website and include functions like meeting role signup and member performance tracking.

I’d be happy to help you with the transition if you decide to pursue this. I’d encourage you to go ahead and sign up for the free website just to test it. These sites are not public when you first set them up, in the sense that they are not indexed by search engines until you change that setting to make them public. So you can experiment and invite in a few other officers to test it before deciding.

Let me know how I can help.

Video: New Member Orientation for WordPress for Toastmasters

This latest tutorial experience covers the basic member experience on WordPress for Toastmasters, including basic tasks like changing a password, correcting contact information on the member profile, and signing up to speak or fill another meeting role.

The second part of the video shows how members can track their own progress through the program on the new My Progress screen and (if allowed) correct and update those records.

Administrators should be aware of the option to allow members to edit their own records. For example, if a speech was recorded as a Competent Communication speech when really it was out of one of the advanced manuals, you can allow members to put in the correct information. This also gives members a way of recording a speech they gave at another club.

If you are not comfortable with that option, you can have members report any corrections to the VP of Education or other club leader, who can make the change.

Setting the "edit own" option for basic members.
Setting the “edit own” option for basic members.

If you choose to turn this feature on, you would do so on the Security tab of the Toastmasters settings screen. The “edit_member_stats” security privledge would allow editing of any member’s performance statistics, but you probably want to reserve that superpower for officers and senior members. You can turn on “edit_own_stats” to allow them to correct/update their own records only.

New Spreadsheet Import / Export

The new WordPress for Toastmasters import/export feature allows you to download a spreadsheet of data including member contact information and a summary of achievements within your club. The file downloads in the standard CSV file format, which you can open in Excel and other data management programs.

You can then make corrections and import the data back into the website, or you can use this as a way of transferring your data to another web server (for example, if you move from my toastmost.org service to your own web hosting).

The import feature here is similar to the one I recommend you use to import users into a new WordPress for Toastmasters site, using the member spreadsheet from Club Central on toastmasters.org.

If you are just getting started with your new website, you might start this way:

  • Import your members using the toastmasters.org spreadsheet.
  • Download the WordPress for Toastmasters data export. This will give you a spreadsheet that contains the member’s basic contact info and a series of blank columns in the rows representing other data, such as the number of Competent Communication speeches the member has given.
  • Update the spreadsheet, correcting data such as email addresses and phone numbers, and adding a basic set of information about how far the member has advanced in the Toastmasters program.
  • Import the spreadsheet into the website to update the member records.

This is intended as a way to “jump start” your website, after which you will start to benefit from the data gathered in the normal course of business as you organize your meetings.

Answering the “Why is this free?” question

dollar-1175048_960_720You’ve probably heard warnings like “There ain’t no such thing as free lunch” or “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold” as cautions against things being offered for free. I’ve encountered some of that skepticism in my promotion of WordPress for Toastmasters. People are waiting for the punchline, watching for my deep, dark ulterior motive.

It’s not all that mysterious, but let me give as straightforward of an answer as I can.

A little background: My name is David F. Carr, and I’m the prime mover behind the WordPress for Toastmasters project. I spent most of my career as a technology journalist at Internet World, Baseline Magazine, and Information Week and continue to exercise those muscles in my blog on Forbes.com. These days, I make most of my money as a ghostwriter and editor working with business and technology leaders. I’m also the author of a book, Social Collaboration for Dummies, which is about digital productivity strategies for business. The hands-on web development work I do is motivated by a desire to create online experiences that apply the lessons I’ve learned from my study of digital businesses.

My most widely used digital product is an events plugin for WordPress called RSVPMaker. The open source version of the software for Toastmasters I created is RSVPMaker for Toastmasters and the theme that supports Toastmasters branding is Lectern.

Because not everyone who wants to do web marketing for their club is a techie who wants to mess with configuring WordPress plugins and themes, I am offering free websites on something much like the FreeToastHost model. FTH established toastmastersclubs.org as the domain where all club sites are hosted (mysite.toastmastersclubs.org), and I have toastmost.org, where club sites get a web address in the format mysite.toastmost.org.

Which brings us to the why question. Some answers:

  • I’m a raging egomaniac. I’m proud of the software I created, originally for my own club, and want other people to be impressed.
  • Because the WordPress software I built on top of is free and open source, my plugin software had to be free and open source to be distributed through wordpress.org. (There is some wiggle room for “premium” add-ons). I get a tremendous head start from building on WordPress as a the foundation for web content management, and it in turn benefits from the contributions of thousands of volunteers.
  • The free websites for this project are running on a server I’m already paying for, which so far has adequate capacity to spare. If thousands of clubs were to go live on the service, I would have a greater need to offset expenses with advertising, donations, or some other form of revenue.
  • This is an opportunity to make professional contacts with Toastmasters all over the world, some of whom may have a writing, editing, or web consulting project to steer my way.
  • I’m following the same path as the developers of Free Toast Host and Easy-Speak, also volunteer-led projects.
  • I’m crazy: this is one definite possibility I have entertained, on days when I find myself investing time in this project that might be better spent on paying work.

If operating the free hosted club websites sites becomes too expensive, I could close the door to new registrations and still support the “early adopters.” That is, I don’t want to pull the rug out from under anyone who sets up a free site. And I would very much like to make this work on a self-sustaining basis.

Meanwhile, the availability of the open source software means Toastmasters clubs always have the opportunity to operate one of these sites independently. Using the multisite capability of WordPress, districts could potentially host websites for all their constituent clubs. Other sponsors could set up sites on the toastmost.org model anywhere in the world.

Setting the software free creates many opportunities, which I hope you will take advantage of.

The Business Case for WordPress for Toastmasters

WP4Toastmasters Comparison with AlternativesThe slideshow below is my summary of the business case for WordPress for Toastmasters and how it compares with the alternatives for club marketing and management.

I acknowledge that the comparisons are self-serving and subjective. I do not mean to be disrespectful to the creators of Free Toast Host and Easy-Speak. Those products are also the work of good, dedicated, and generous Toastmasters. I just have a different approach that has worked well for my club and a small but growing number of other clubs. Also, while other Toastmasters software projects benefit from dedicated volunteer coders who happen to be Toastmasters, a WordPress-based solution benefits from the contributions of thousands of web developers from outside the Toastmasters world. Only my additions are homegrown.

If anyone would like to use or modify these slides to pitch the concept to their own club, they are available to download: WP4Toastmasters Comparison with Alternatives.pptx.

 

WordPress for Toastmasters Demo / Coaching Offer

wordpress-4-toastmasters-flatWith new Toastmasters leaders to be sworn in a few months from now, this could be a good time to think about revamping your club website.

I am currently scheduling one-on-one or small group coaching sessions to answer your questions, get feedback on aspects of the software that still need improvement, and help you launch a more effective club website.

You can join one of the scheduled meetings listed below or reserve a time on my calendar using the form at the bottom of this page.

WordPress for Toastmasters takes advantage of a standard web publishing and online marketing platform (WordPress) and adds software and design elements specific to the needs of a Toastmasters club. For me, this project is a labor of love: something I created for my own club’s use and have used successfully to improve our online marketing and recruiting, while also saving our officers work by automating routine tasks. Having invested the effort in making it useful to everyone, I would love to see more clubs taking advantage of it. Even if it’s not right for you, please let new clubs that are launching or clubs that need to reinvigorate their marketing know that it is an option.

Currently scheduled:

Request another time, write me with a couple of possible times we could meet. If possible, I am trying to get at least a small group of people together for each of these briefings, so if a few club officers can agree on a time, that’s even better.

If you are unable to keep the appointment, please let me know. I have had several people fail to show up at a time they specifically requested.

Collecting and Analyzing Member Data with WordPress for Toastmasters

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Editing meeting roles on Android

The WordPress for Toastmasters project aims to let Toastmasters clubs use one website for social media marketing and online recruiting but also for managing meetings and tracking member progress.

The publishing aspect will always be stronger, given that WordPress benefits from the work of thousands of commercial and volunteer programmers and is used by professional publications like The New Yorker, as well as marketing organizations like Disney. I created the Toastmasters-specific functions myself, with the help of a small (but growing) circle of advisers from other clubs who want to see this project succeed. On the other hand, those are the things that make this WordPress for Toastmasters.

Recent upgrades have improved:

  • The self-service features, where members sign up for roles online.
  • The meeting role editor, including features that make it easier to update the roster from your phone or tablet.
  • The reports tracking member progress toward Competent Communicator, Competent Leader, and the advanced awards.
  • The tool club leaders use to edit member records, correcting errors and recording accomplishments that occur outside the context of a club meeting.

The challenge is to make this information complete and accurate enough to be useful, without over-complicating things.

I suspect some clubs will use this part of the software more seriously than others. However, several of the Toastmasters leaders who gave me feedback on improvements to the software are very serious about tracking member statistics this way.

You do not necessarily have to treat the reports produced by the software as your official club records to get some value out of them. The original idea was simply to report on data the system gathers along the way, capturing it off meeting agendas. For example, over time agenda data should give you a pretty good idea of which members are close to achieving their CC award. But to make the report complete, you would also have to record a starter set of data about where members were in their Toastmasters journey before you started using the software. There is also a process for reconciling data based on the plan for a meeting (as reflected by the agenda) with who actually showed up and spoke (sometimes two different things).

According to this report, Abraham Lincoln is working on a second CC, but some other members could use a nudge.
According to this report, Abraham Lincoln is working on a second CC, but some other members could use a nudge.

The Competent Leader Progress report screen is one of the most complicated (and may still need more refinement) but tries to fill in the menu of requirement in different categories, according to the data gathered through the system. It’s designed to show where the gaps are.

Note that this report will not tell you whether the member has fulfilled the requirement of being evaluated for how well they filled a role such as Timer or Evaluator, only that they did it.

See who has fulfilled CL requirements and where the gaps are for different members.
See who has fulfilled CL requirements and where the gaps are for different members.

The Advanced Award Progress reports screen is new, designed to track speeches from the advanced manuals plus other requirements for ACB, ACS, ACG, ALB, and ALS awards on the way to DTM.

This member has completed two advanced manuals (ACB) and is working on an ACS.

Yes, I’m aware that there is a Revitalized Education Program coming, bringing with it significant changes in this structure of advancement. Meanwhile, I’m trying to help my fellow club leaders do a better job of managing within the requirements that exist today.

Editing Meeting Roles

A large part of that is making it as easy as possible for individual members to sign up for roles online and for club leaders to edit those records as necessary. When you are logged into the website, “Edit Signups” will be one of the options shown on the menu at the top of the signup form.

edit-signups-menu

When you switch into editing mode, the “Take Role” buttons are replaced by a drop-down list of club members, allowing you to assign roles to them.

Editing role assignments
Editing role assignments

The demo below is of some refinements to the process of editing the roster of members filling roles at a meeting, particularly with regard to making it easier to do from a mobile device.

The rest of the data editing functions are on the back end of the website, on the administrator’s dashboard. Here is what that menu looks like as of April 2016.

toastmasters-menu
Administrator’s menu

A regular member without editing rights on the site would see a subset of these options. Key items on this list:

  • My Progress – a report where members can see their own progress, according to the data in the system.
  • Edit Member Stats – the screen where club leaders can record or correct member statistics for more accurate reports.
  • Reconcile – Visit this screen after a meeting to record any disparities with the agenda, such as members who did not show up to fulfill their roles and others who stepped up at the last minute and ought to get credit. Also, if the member did not indicate the specific manual and project for a speech prior to the meeting, it can be recorded here for more accurate tracking.
  • Record Attendance – If you choose to record attendance through the system, you can do it here. Members will already be recorded as having been present if they fulfilled a role.
  • Import Free Toast Host Data – If you previously used Free Toast Host, you may be able to import a useful starter set of data by following the instructions on this screen.

By focusing on these data gathering and analysis capabilities, I hope to make WordPress for Toastmasters a more complete solution for clubs who want to get more serious about the use of their website as a productivity tool, as well as a marketing platform.