How to Assign Time to Each Portion of Your Agenda

WordPress for Toastmasters now makes it a little easier to plan the timing of your meeting agenda on an administration screen where you can assign or adjust the time associated with any role on the agenda or any agenda note. You will see the times change as you make your updates.

Here is what that looks like for my home club, Club Awesome Toastmasters:

New Agenda Timing planner.

Continue reading “How to Assign Time to Each Portion of Your Agenda”

Guest Email List and Utilities for Tracking Guests and Former Members

The latest software updates were produced in response to a request to support having a separate email list for staying in touch with guests who are not yet members. You can also use it to keep tabs on former members you hope will return someday. This is part of the the integration with the Mailman mailing list utility. The Guests/Former Members tracking screen has also been updated to allow you to add those individuals to the list.

In addition, I’ve made it easier to manage one routine administrative task: approving or deleting messages that have been held for moderation.

The options below will appear on your Toastmasters settings screen if you are running an independent website. If you have one of the free toastmost.org accounts, I have to manually set it up for you (in which case I’d ask you to consider making a donation to the cause).

Guest email list option on the settings screen.

Simplifying Mailman

Mailman is an open source Linux utility that has been around for years. Once you have recorded your password, the WordPress software will log into Mailman on your behalf to perform routine functions like adding the email addresses of new members to your members email list. The link to the Mailman administration page, along with the password, are also displayed on the dashboard in the section only visible to site managers (officers) and administrators.

This kind of mailing list allows you to write to a single address and have your message distributed to everyone on the list. It includes some basic unsubscribe functionality, and you as the list administrator can also add and drop list members.

As an alternative, the RSVPMaker plugin included as part of WordPress for Toastmasters, supports integration with the MailChimp marketing email service. However, forwarding a message via the Mailman email list is a lot quicker and easier than setting up a MailChimp campaign.

Before distributing a message, Mailman checks to make sure the message was sent by either a member of the list, an administrator, or another email account that has been specifically whitelisted as an approved address. If not, the message will be held for “moderation,” meaning a list administrator has to approve it. This is helpful for preventing spam, but it does add a certain amount of hassle and gives you another password to remember.

The Mailman user interface for that task is not the most user friendly.

Mailman pending messages user interface.

Now, when you get the notification about one of these pending messages you can approve it from within the Mailman Mailing List screen in WordPress (under the Users menu, next to Guests/Former Members).

Where to find the Mailman screen.

This screen also allows you to view who is currently on each of the 3 supported lists (members, officers, guests) and to add or unsubscribe list members.

Under the Pending Messages section, you will see the email addresses of any unauthorized members who have written to the list, along with the subject line of the message or messages they sent. For each email, you can choose to Always Approve messages (whitelist), Approve Once (just this time), or Blacklist the message. If you approved the message, it will be transmitted. If you choose Blacklist, the message will be deleted and any further messages from that address will be blocked.

You can also click on the message to read its content before deciding, although currently that does require you to log into Mailman directly. Often, it’s pretty obvious from the subject line and the email address, for example if a member is writing from a different email address than the one on the list or if a district officer is trying to write to your club.

The Mailman Mailing Lists screen in WordPress

Adding Email from RSVPs and Guests/Former Members List

The Guests/Former Members screen automatically tracks information about people who used to be club members (and users of the website) but aren’t anymore. You can also manually add information about guests and former members who you want to stay in touch with. You now have the option of checking off emails from the Guests/Former members list that should be added to your guest email list in Mailman.

If you use RSVPMaker to register guests online, you can also pull in the email addresses people who have visited but not joined your club from those registrations. This is relevant to the online club I helped found, Online Presenters, where we have people register to get the link to the video conference.

Here is a quick video demo of how that works.

WordPress for Toastmasters Training for July 2017

Learn how to promote your club and fill your agenda with the help of WordPress for Toastmasters. This training is intended for club officers who are actively using or considering the WordPress option for their clubs.

I’ve scheduled three sessions aimed at officers settling into new roles or thinking about how digital tools might help them revitalize their clubs in the coming year. The schedule is meant to work for Toastmasters in a few different timezones.

Register for one of these three sessions.

There’s a “see in my timezone tool” on the web page for each event.

Video: How to Reorder Speakers and Evaluators

The latest update to WordPress for Toastmasters makes it easier to rearrange the order in which we want speakers and evaluators to be listed on the agenda, which might not be the same as the order in which they signed up.

For example, my home club, Club Awesome, follows a tradition of allowing a member giving their Icebreaker to go first — so they can get it over with, if they’re nervous, and relax for the rest of the meeting. Or you might want to accommodate a speaker who needs to arrive late or leave early.

Also, several clubs have requested the ability to have the agenda display which speakers are matched with which evaluators. To make that work, we want to be able to rearrange the order so we can match speakers and evaluators appropriately (for example, to have a member’s mentor be the one who evaluates their icebreaker).

The video shows how you can now drag-and-drop to reorder roles. Continue reading “Video: How to Reorder Speakers and Evaluators”

Call for Developers: WordPress for Toastmasters on Github

The three components of the WordPress for Toastmasters software are now available on Github for the benefit of web developers and designers who would like to contribute code and ideas for improvement. 

RSVPMaker for Toastmasters on Github
Access to the RSVPMaker for Toastmasters source code.

The development of this software has been largely a one-man show to date, but having more eyes on the code will force me to clean up some of my own sloppy habits and bring more ideas into the process. I am new to doing collaboration through Github, but it is well known among open source developers. Even if you do not know how to fix or improve the code, you can post feature requests and ideas on the issues tab within one of the repositories.

Like WordPress, these extensions are written in PHP and JavaScript (often using the JQuery libraries), plus HTML and CSS. Where possible, I try to take advantage of native WordPress capabilities, for example by using the standard editor you would use for blog posts to edit agendas and agenda templates. The WordPress APIs are documented at https://developer.wordpress.org/reference/

Notes for Developers

Note that RSVPMaker is used for other purposes outside of Toastmasters for all sorts of scheduling and event registration tasks. Toastmasters-specific functionality needs to be packed primarily into RSVPMaker for Toastmasters. However, sometimes it’s necessary to retool the RSVPMaker code to make it more flexible, so we can do what we need to do in a Toastmasters context. Ideally, those improvements also make it more flexible and capable for other purposes. Read more about RSVPMaker at rsvpmaker.com.

RSVPMaker defines a custom post type for events, in addition to the native WordPress page and post types. RSVPMaker posts have additional metadata associated with them such as event date and whether RSVPs (registrations) are being collected, what information should be collected from each attendee, whether a price is to be charged by PayPal or Stripe. Those options are displayed in the editor and dictate the display and interactivity of the event post.

RSVPMaker also allows you to establish templates that can be used to generate multiple events with the same characteristics, such as multiple Toastmasters meetings with the same agenda.

For the member signup form and printable agenda, RSVPMaker for Toastmasters uses WordPress shortcodes, which are placeholders for interactive features. When WordPress displays a post, it checks for any shortcodes embedded in the content and invokes the functions they are link to.

Example:

[toastmaster role=”Speaker” count=”3″ agenda_note=”” time_allowed=”28″ padding_time=”1″ indent=”0″]

This is displayed differently in different contexts.

  • Anonymous user sees: names of people who have signed up to speak. Prompt at top of agenda inviting members to log in.
  • Logged in member sees: three speaker signup slots on a web form, with prompts to enter manual, project, title, and intro.
  • VP of Education editing the lineup sees: speaker signup form with a drop down list of all members who can be assigned to the speaking role.
  • Member printing the agenda sees: A printable view of the data recorded on the form, including member name, manual, project, and title.
  • Club leader restructuring the agenda sees: a visual placeholder for the code shown above, with instructions to click twice to display a popup editor. The popup editor makes it possible to edit the shortcode attributes visually, rather than with coding. This is constructed using JavaScript APIs to WordPress and the TinyMCE visual editor.

Those are a few concepts I thought it was important to explain up front, but I’m sure anyone who digs into the code will have more questions. Write me at david@wp4toastmasters.com

Video Replay: WordPress for Toastmasters workshop

This workshop was delivered as part of a meeting of Online Presenters Toastmasters, a club that meets online and focuses on developing skills for webinars and online meetings.

The WordPress for Toastmasters project aims to give clubs a first-class web and social media marketing platform to use when promoting their clubs, along with Toastmasters specific features such as meeting role signup. David F. Carr, the founding President of Online Presenters, is also the prime mover behind the development of the WordPress for Toastmasters software. In this educational workshop, he covers some of the essentials for using the software effectively, and answers questions from the club and guest attendees.

Monday: Workshop on WordPress for Toastmasters at Online Presenters

I will be presenting a Workshop on WordPress for Toastmasters on Monday May 15, 2017 at 7:30 pm EDT, in the context of a meeting of Online Presenters Toastmasters.

Sign up here:

Online Presenters Meeting: Workshop on WordPress for Toastmasters May 15

WordPress for Toastmasters tutorialThis workshop particularly focuses on what club webmasters and club officers need to know to manage a WordPress for Toastmasters website. This is partly education for the officers of Online Presenters, most of whom are new to the software. I will also be covering some new features, such as the option to sync data between multiple websites running this software.

Because Online Presenters meets via video conference, this may be a better opportunity to get your questions answered than the webinars I’ve presented in the past where you had to type in your questions.

The formal meeting really starts at 8 pm EDT, but we encourage guests to sign in for our informal meet-and-greet / technical troubleshooting session starting at 7:30.

Hope to see you there,

David

David F. Carr, versatile and inventive writer, editor, and web consultant
Founder, Online Presenters Toastmasters and the WordPress for Toastmasters project
Author, Social Collaboration for Dummies
See my work on Forbes, connect with me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook
david@carrcommunications.com

Sync Member Progress Report Data

Club website administrators now have the option to allow the WordPress for Toastmasters software to backup and sync member progress report data, meaning data about speeches and other roles filled within the club. For the small but growing number of members who belong to multiple clubs that manage their agendas this way, this makes it possible to get a consolidated view of your activity across multiple clubs.

For example, I can now sign into the website of my home club Club Awesome (www.clubawesome.org) and view a list of speeches completed both there and at Online Presenters (op.toastmost.org), the online club I recently founded.

How speech data syncs between sites.
Speeches given at other clubs are displayed with the domain of the other club shown beneath manual, project, and title.

If you are giving speeches from the same manual at a couple of different clubs, this gives you (and your VP of Education) a better way of tracking your progress.

When I view the progress reports screen on clubawesome.org, I see a message showing how many records have been uploaded and how many have been downloaded from the repository on wp4toastmasters.com.

Message showing data sync results

Club websites hosted on toastmost.org (a free service of the WordPress for Toastmasters project) share a common user/member database. If you belong to multiple clubs that employ that service, the data sharing is automatic.

To work across multiple independently hosted websites, the data sync service must be turned on by an administrator at each site. When this is enabled, updates are transmitted to wp4toastmasters.org and recorded in a database there, indexed by Toastmasters Member ID. (The Toastmasters Member ID must be recorded on the user profile for this to work). The data shared does not include personal data such as phone numbers or email addresses. It is limited to records such as speech dates, titles, and manual projects, as well as the dates on which members filled other roles such as Toastmaster of the Day or Ah Counter.

In addition to allowing data to sync between club websites, this provides a backup of your records of club member achievements.

I can imagine this feature may be disallowed by some clubs, such as corporate clubs with websites hosted on company servers where IT has strict security policies. Or at least, the IT department may need to be convinced that this is safe.

For those who want or need the technical details:

Data is encoded as JSON, transmitted as an HTTPS PUT to wp4toastmasters.com over SSL and recorded in a SQL database. If the database contains records for the same member from a different club website, those are downloaded as JSON.

Tracking, Updating Member Speech and Project History

The latest update to the WordPress for Toastmasters software includes several improvements to the system for tracking member activity, including more (still preliminary) support for the Pathways program.

The Toastmasters menu on the WordPress dashboard shows different options to the average member than to the administrator and club officers. The site administrator also has the option of deciding whether members should be able to see all the reports or only their own data (go to Settings -> Toastmasters and open the tab labeled Security).

At a minimum, every member has access to the My Progress screen with tabs labeled Basic Program (showing progress in the Competent Communicator and Competent Leader manuals), Speeches (listed chronologically and by manual), Advanced Awards, and Pathways. The Pathways screen is described in more detail below.

If the club allows members to update and edit their own data, tabs labeled Edit and Add Member Speech will also be displayed.

The Progress Reports screen is organized into the same list of tabs, but with the option to view reports and enter data for any member in the club.

Update History: One potentially disruptive change, for some club leaders, is the renaming of what used to be called the “Reconcile” screen on the administrator’s dashboard to “Update History.” If you are trying to keep accurate records of member speeches and roles completed, reconciling the agenda after the meeting is an important step to make sure the right people get credit for their participation. Letting the system gather most of that information from the agenda saves you time, but the reconciliation process cleans up discrepancies like last minute changes where one member was unable to attend and another stepped up to speak.

The reason for the name change is this screen can now be used to enter history from before you began using this software. For example, I was contacted by an officer of a club that has been meeting for several months and had records of roles filled at past meetings recorded on a spreadsheet. While it’s possible to record summary statistics like number of speeches given per manual, I wanted to make it easier for someone in that position to enter a series of meeting records without the need to create a bunch of back-dated events in the system.

How Precise Do You Want to Be?

As a club leader, it is up to you to decide how thorough you want to be about logging all data through the website software. It’s the software’s job to support your choices.

If you just want to use the website as a tool for organizing your meetings, you will get some basic tracking of member activity “for free” as part of that process, and the record will become more complete (particularly for new members) as time goes on). If that’s your attitude, you may not want to enter historical information at all.

Or you may want to add historical information at more of a summary level. The Edit tab in the Progress Reports screen will let a club leader enter summary statistics like how many speeches members have concluded in each manual. In other words, you can enter the number of CC speeches given, rather than entering the date, speech project, and title for each one. From that screen you can also make corrections to agenda records, such as adding the manual and project for a speech when that wasn’t done in advance.

Update History options

The argument for adding detailed historical information is that you and your members will need all the detailed information when applying for awards, meaning it could save you time and effort in the long run to have the data all in one place.

The Update History screen will allow you to enter records for past meetings on any date, using a form based on your meeting template.

If you just want to record speech projects, there is also the Add Member Speech tab on the Progress Reports screen.

New Pathways Tab

WordPress for Toastmasters has been phasing in some preliminary support for Pathways, the new Toastmasters educational program just starting to roll out to a handful of districts. I’ve been getting some exposure to it through Online Presenters Toastmasters, an online club I founded in which some of our members are also members of a club in a Pathways district.

WordPress for Toastmasters now includes Pathways projects on the signup form. The new web-based evaluation forms (introduced largely for the convenience of online clubs) also cover Pathways projects.

There is now a Pathways tab on the Progress reports screen that displays a summary of the progress of each member participating in Pathways. It shows a count of speeches completed in each level of the path selected by that member.

Overview of Member Progress in Pathways

When viewing the records for a specific member, you will see the listing of speeches the member has completed within that path. There is also a space for adding notes on other activities, such as completing self-assessments, that are part of the Pathways program.

Pathways record for an individual member.

 

Toastmasters International is providing more of its own online tools as part of the Pathways program, and it is not my intent to compete with them. The idea is to provide easier access to the information you gather in the natural course of business when you use WordPress for Toastmasters to organize your meeting agendas.

Other Enhancements

Following a recent overhaul of the way WordPress for Toastmasters tracks member data, club websites can now share member data with other clubs using the same software. This is automatic for clubs that host their sites on toastmost.org (a free service of the WordPress for Toastmasters project) because they share a common user/member database. In the coming weeks, I will introduce a service allowing clubs that run the software on independent websites to sync their data.

Tools for editing all this progress report data have also been updated for what you should find to be a smoother user experience. Feedback on how to improve it further is always welcome.

Online Evaluation Forms for Online Clubs

WordPress for Toastmasters now includes web forms you can fill out to give written feedback to a speaker, eliminating the need to upload, download, and email back and forth files. The completed evaluation will be emailed to the speaker and saved to the user’s progress report page on the website. (A simpler version for clubs on Easy Speak or some other software is available here).

I’ve been learning about how operating an online club is different through my work with Online Presenters, and this strikes me as an opportunity to fill an unmet need.

A Pathways project PDF translated into an online form.

It strikes me as foolish and awkward for members of a club that does all its business online to require people to follow a paper-based process for evaluations. Besides, a form I complete online is much more likely to be readable than one I download, print, scribble on, scan, and email. And expecting everyone to know how to edit PDFs, which are essentially digitized paper documents, is unreasonable.

Forms corresponding to speech projects in the basic and advanced manuals in the “old” Toastmasters program most of us are still going through are available, adapted from “evaluation guides” documents available on the Internet that give just the evaluation prompts from the manuals.

I’m showing a Pathways example above. So far, I only have forms for a couple of Pathways projects, but see below for details on how you can help with my crowd sourced approach to filling in the gaps. Although Toastmasters International classifies online clubs as undistricted, and undistricted clubs will be among the very last to get Pathways, Online Presenters already has dual members asking to do Pathways speeches, even though they will need to get credit for them in their other club. Providing a written evaluation is one way of giving them the documentation they will need to share with their land based club VPE.

When evaluating a project for which no specific form is available, you will get a form with three generic prompts commonly used in Pathways —

  • You excelled at
  • You may want to work on
  • To challenge yourself

— plus a space for entering additional comments.

Even when a project-specific form is available, it may still make sense for the speaker to email the evaluator with background information about the goals of the project, but I will recommend that members of my online club complete the written evaluations themselves through the website.

Here is a mockup of a completed form, as it would be displayed for printing. The same content is sent to the speaker via email.

Adding and Editing Forms

All the evaluation forms are stored in a centralized repository at wp4toastmasters.com and provided to individual websites as a cloud service. Site editors and administrators have access to a screen that allows them to add or edit content for the forms, as shown below. If you find an error, or you can add a project that is not yet covered, your edits will be shared with all other WordPress for Toastmasters users.

I found it was possible to copy and paste much of this content from PDFs, like those being distributed to members in the Pathways programs or the evaluation guides developed by Toastmasters members. Pasted in content does require some cleanup, and you need to understand how this text-based form editor works.

A simple prompt that appears on the form over a text entry box, like “You excelled at” would be entered on a single line under Speech Prompts.

Multiple choice prompts, like those that ask you to rate the speaker on a 1 to 5 scale, are entered with the introductory label separated from the choices, and each of the choices separated from each other, using the | symbol.

Example:

Gestures|5 (Exemplary)|4 (Excels)|3 (Accomplished)|2 (Emerging)|1 (Developing)

Here is what that looks like as a prompt on the form (the actual label text is a little more than I’m showing above).

Form prompt example.

The evaluator filling out this form checks off the most appropriate choice and can also enter a comment.

Potentially, some offline clubs could also find this useful for members who are more comfortable typing than writing their written evaluations. I suppose one danger is the online format gives you an opportunity to be longwinded. My recommendation would be to give written feedback the speaker will find meaningful, perhaps covering points you didn’t get to in your aural evaluation, then stop.

Let me know what you think.