New: How to Request a Written Evaluation

Requesting a written evaluation

The evaluations tool in WordPress for Toastmasters has been enhanced to allow you to request an evaluation for a speech or competent leader project through the website.

This tool is specifically meant for online clubs, where members are not in the same location to exchange their books. Most online Toastmasters clubs handle this by emailing PDFs back and forth, but I find that awkward. Brick and mortar clubs might also find this handy as a way of getting people to get evaluated for their Competent Leader projects, even if they forgot to bring their book to the meeting. Besides, typing an evaluation is better for people like me with messy handwriting.

There are now four tabs across the top of the Evaluations screen: Give Evaluations, Request Evaluation, Evaluations Received, and Evaluations Given.

The Request Evaluations tab is populated with roles you have filled at recent meetings (according to the agenda), as well as other CL projects you might complete outside of a meeting such as editing a club newsletter. You choose the project, choose the person you want to email the request to, and optionally add a personal note. If you don’t choose a member to email the request to in the Send To field, the tool will still generate a link that you can share by Facebook message or some other means.

The online forms include the same prompts as you would find in your manuals, including many of the new Pathways projects. If you spot errors or inconsistencies, let me know.

Update: here is how I introduced this at Online Presenters Toastmasters.

Role Recommendations Versus Role Assignments

There are two modes in which a meeting planner can parcel out meeting roles to members: assigning roles and recommending roles. This distinction holds with or without the “random” assignment suggestion feature.

Which you use will depend on the culture of your club and how open members are to being “voluntold” to take a role, rather than volunteering for it.

You’re in assignment mode when you select either Edit Signups or Assign from the menu. The Assign option is a shortcut to turning on random assignment suggestions. When you assign a role to a member, you are reserving it for that person. The member will get an email notification that looks something like this:

assignment email
Assignment Notification

Traditionally, in my clubs the VPE (which used to be me) would use the editing or assigning role to record roles that people had signed up for on a paper signup sheet. In other words, they really had volunteered, just not on the website. However, other clubs are more proactive in having the VPE assign roles to members rather than waiting for them to volunteer. This has some advantages in terms of keeping members moving through the program and encouraging them to rotate through a variety of different roles.

When you use the Recommendation mode, you are asking rather than telling. The idea is that you can send the member a notification that makes it easy for them to confirm they will take the role (one-click confirmation). You can also include a personal note, explaining why the role would be good for them. But if they do not respond, the role will not be held open for them.

The email notification looks like this:

recommendation email
Recommended role notification asks member to confirm

The user can click that accept link and be instantly added to the agenda.

confirmation message
Confirming acceptance of a role

New Planning Tool for Semi-Randomly Assigning Members to Open Roles

Clubs who prefer to assign members to roles, rather than waiting for volunteers, or who sometimes find it’s helpful for members to be “voluntold” what they should do for an upcoming meeting, now have access to a new planning tool.

This is a new and improved version of the “Show random assignments” function introduced in an earlier release. It has been redesigned based on feedback from VPEs and other officers who said they want to be able to assign members to roles more easily several weeks in advance.

The random assignments mode is actually semi-random. The software starts by identifying all the members who currently do not have a role for a given meeting. Before picking from that list, it attempts to filter out:

  • Members who have filled the same role in one of the last 3 meetings
  • Members who are too junior (have given less than 3 speeches) to fill a role such as evaluator
  • Members who have posted an “Away Message” indicating they will be out of town on the date of the meeting

Those who clear these hurdles are then put in a pool of possible assignees, which is shuffled until a “winner” emerges. This works in both the editing mode where you are assigning members to roles and the “recommend” function where you nominate someone for a role but they must confirm before it is held for them.

randomly suggested member
A suggested random assignment

The random choices appear as suggestions, which you as a meeting organizer can override. If the member recommended by the software is unreliable, you might not want to assign them to an important role. Or you might want to pick a really excellent evaluator for a speaker who is practicing for a speech contest. On the other hand, the software may help you spread the work around more evenly and encourage members to try roles they have not filled in the past.

When you make choices manually, you will have more information available to you within the dropdown list of members, including “Away” status messages and the date when the member last filled a specific role.

random dropdown
Away status shown on the dropdown list

You will see a new option on the menu labeled Assign, which is the editing view with random assignments turned on. From the editing mode, you can also click “Show random assignments” to get this effect.

menu assign
Assign option on menu

These updates are live on toastmost.org. If you have a self-hosted site, these features will appear once you upgrade to RSVPMaker for Toastmasters 2.7.1 or later.

Roll those dice!

A couple of other tweaks in this release include:

  • A shortcode for including the signup sheet display of multiple future meetings as embedded content on the page. In WordPress, a shortcode is a placeholder for content that gets generated dynamically. Include [signup_sheet limit=”3″] in a page to get a table displaying the next 3 meetings. The limit parameter is required for this to work, but you can change it if you want a different number of meetings to be displayed.
  • New styling for the optional green-yellow-red “stoplight” display of times on the agenda. It should work better if you download the agenda to Microsoft Word. Also displays better when the agenda is printed in black and white.

How to Set an ‘Away Message’ in WordPress for Toastmasters

When you are recruiting members to take roles at a meeting or for any volunteer purpose, it helps not to waste your time calling people who are unavailable. People who are on vacation or traveling on business may also want to let others know when they will be unavailable.

Set Away Message option on the dashboard

The “Away Message” function is meant to fill this need. You will see it advertised on the main dashboard and also on the public members page (when you are logged in).

You can enter your message with an expiration date to mark when you will return.

set away message
Setting an away message

The message then shows up on the individual’s profile on the member page (shown only to logged in members).

away message
Away message on the members page

One other context where this shows up is in the Recommend feature meeting organizers can use to nominate another member to take a role (they get an email alert and can confirm with one click). If someone is out of town, you won’t want to choose them, so their status is shown next to their name.

recommend away message
Away message in the context of the Recommend a role feature

Toastmost.org Ad Prices Cut By 50%

If you have a product or service that will appeal to Toastmasters, consider advertising on Toastmost.org, a club website hosting service based on the WordPress for Toastmasters project software. The price of advertising for one month has now been cut from $200 to $100, with further price breaks for longer terms.

Advertise on Toastmost.org

Ad Type

Advertise to Toastmasters leaders in the clubs who take advantage of the free website offer at toastmost.org (example: demo.toastmost.org). Ads appear in the sidebar of the page.

WordPress for Toastmasters is a free, open source software project that adds features like agenda management to WordPress, the world’s most popular blogging and web content management platform. Toastmost.org is a hosting service from Carr Communications Inc., the company of project founder and chief programmer David F. Carr, DTM. The software is compatible with any WordPress web hosting service, so the advantage of Toastmost.org is to provide support directly from the author of the Toastmasters-specific software.

WordPress for Toastmasters receives no financial or logistical support from Toastmasters International, but the Toastmasters-branded theme Lectern has been reviewed for conformance to Toastmasters branding requirements.

Relaunching Toastmasters Club Website Hosting Service

Update: As of December 2017, the free trial is now for 6 months.

The Toastmost.org Toastmasters club website hosting service is relaunching as a free 60-day 6-month trial offer, after which club leaders must decide whether upgrading to a paid plan makes sense for them. More details at toastmost.org.

The hosting service is intended as a convenient way for club leaders who aren’t necessarily techies to set up and configure a site that takes advantage of the WordPress for Toastmasters software. Originally, it was offered as a free service to be supported by ads and donations, but that income stream proved inadequate. Putting the Toastmost.org service on a more solid business plan is important to ensuring servers and services will be upgraded as needed for reliability, performance, and security.

If your club signed up for the free club website offer, you will continue to get that same deal. I may try to lure you into a voluntary upgrade, but I will honor the terms you signed up for. I thank you for your feedback on improvements to the WordPress for Toastmasters software, and I’ll keep trying to make it better and easier to use.

Going forward, I will work on sharpening the branding distinction between WordPress for Toastmasters, the free open source software project, and Toastmost.org website hosting, a service of my company, Carr Communications Inc., based on that software.

As a business venture, I my current ambition for the hosting service is merely to get it to cover its own costs as it grows. If you have one of the free sites, or are hosting a site elsewhere, consider making a donation if you see the value.

Meanwhile, the point of the WordPress for Toastmasters project is still to share online marketing and club management tools I originally created for my home club, Club Awesome, recently used when starting Online Presenters, and have shared with a small but growing group of other clubs. You can support the project helping with documentation, design, or programming (depending on your skills) or offering training at a district event.

Thank you for your interest in this project and your support for keeping it going.

Manually Adding Stoplight Display with a Shortcode

This is an update to How to Display Stoplight Colors on Your Agenda and Other Agenda Styling Options.

If you have the stoplight feature turned on, those colors will automatically be displayed for speech roles, table topics, and evaluations. Almost immediately I ran into a different scenario: manually adding the stoplight display to a contests agenda. This can be done using a WordPress shortcode, which is a placeholder for a software function you insert in the body of a post. The placeholders for roles and agenda notes are also shortcodes, although I’ve given them a more user friendly user interface with the color-coded images and popup editors.

Here is how the stoplight shortcode appears on the editor, editing the event for my home club’s upcoming evaluation contest.

Stoplight shortcode

The result on the agenda:

Stoplight shortcode display on the agenda.

The formula is [stoplight green=”5″ red=”7″] with angle brackets around the code that begins with “stoplight” and green, red, and optionally yellow specified as parameters.

Suspending Free Toastmasters club website offer September 1

As of September 1, I’m planning to suspend the offer of new free club websites until I can identify a source of funding to make that part of the WordPress for Toastmasters project financially self-sustaining.

The existing club websites on toastmost.org will continue to be supported, and the free and open source software will remain available for those who want to add it to an independently hosted WordPress site  (see Hosting Your Own WordPress for Toastmasters Website).

Meanwhile, I am looking for help from anyone interested in helping me come up with a workable plan to raise the funds to allow the free websites offer to reopen, or who can contribute other ideas for a path forward. Maybe this could be someone’s High Performance Leadership project?

Offering free Toastmasters club websites was always an experiment, a way of demonstrating the value of the software and making it easier for club leaders who do not consider themselves techies to set up a site. I used the multisite configuration of WordPress, together with my own customizations, to allow club leaders to register sites at subdomains such as mysite.toastmost.org. My own Online Presenters club is op.toastmost.org.

However, so far I have had no luck finding an advertiser or sponsor to underwrite that part of the project. Hosting websites does cost money, and I see the cost beginning to grow beyond what I can subsidize out of my consulting business.

There is still time to set up a free club website, if you do it within the next couple of weeks — part of the reason of this post was to give fair warning — and I will continue to work to help those clubs that have set up shop on toastmost.org to be successful with the software. Some good testimonials from leaders who have made it work for their clubs might provide the momentum needed to take this project to the next stage.

How to Display Stoplight Colors on Your Agenda and Other Agenda Styling Options

The latest release of the WordPress for Toastmasters software includes an option to show green / yellow / red “stoplight” timing guidelines on the agenda. This was a request I received some time ago from a club that had been doing something like this with a Microsoft Word template. It took me a while to figure out how to pull it off.

The stoplight option is available to anyone who wants to turn it on. When logged in as administrator, go to Settings -> Toastmasters and you will see a place to turn stoplight display on or off. See also Manually Adding Stoplight Display with a Shortcode.

The other improvements are more targeted to club webmasters with knowledge of CSS stylesheet language, making it easier to change the fonts and alignment of elements within the agenda design.

Here is an example of stoplight colors on the agenda:

Stoplight colors on the agenda

Continue reading “How to Display Stoplight Colors on Your Agenda and Other Agenda Styling Options”

Video: Technical Teardown of This Project (and Related WordPress Projects)

This video is from the South Florida WordPress Users Group meetup. Additional notes and code samples are at https://rsvpmaker.com/teardown/

Yes, Toastmasters friends, I realize I spent too much time with my back to the audience (or at least to the cameraman, my son, who was all the way over to one side of the room). But the audio is not bad for video shot on a smartphone.