Here is how you can set the software to send reminder emails like this —
— based on a message template that looks like this.
I covered the setup for this in a recent online meeting “office hours” session (replay below), and am sharing some additional documentation after the video.
The first step for setting this up is to turn the feature on in the Toastmasters settings screen. You can set up to two different reminder intervals, such as 2 days before and 2 hours before in the example below.
The setup for the reminder email templates is handled through the Notification Templates screen in RSVPMaker (the part of the software that handles event scheduling and registration). To make it easier for Toastmasters to find their way to this screen and others tucked away in different menus, I’ve provided a links from the Club Website Administration widget on the main dashboard.
There are several default message templates you can customize.
Role Reminder – generic message template that is used if no more specific one has been supplied for the specific meeting role. Simply reminds the member of what they committed to doing on a given date, prompting them to let someone know if they will not be able to fulfill that duty.
Toastmaster of the Day – sends the TOD a version of the agenda that shows assigned and unassigned roles with contact info for the members who have taken a role. At the end, it lists the members who have not been assigned a role with their contact information. The idea is to give the TOD a complete kit of info for confirming roles and recruiting people to fill open roles.
Speaker – reminds the speaker to provide a speech introduction and specify the speech project, if that info has not already been entered into the website.
Evaluator – lists the speakers, the other evaluators, and the general evaluator with contact info.
General Evaluator – same as above. Intended to help the general evaluator clarify which speakers are assigned to which evaluators and organize their portion of the meeting.
Norole – The message sent to everyone without an assignment, including the agenda and a link to the agenda page on the website where they can sign up to fill an open role. (This is only sent if specified on the Toastmasters settings screen).
You can customize all of these message templates and add additional ones for other roles off the standard list used by the software —
For example, the Online Presenters Toastmasters club I started has a reminder template for the Timer role with tips about how to perform it in a video conference environment.
The template codes or “shortcodes” for adding the date to the subject line or importing the meeting agenda are listed at the bottom of the Notification Templates page. There is also a link you can click to get a preview based on signups for an upcoming meeting.
The default templates are necessarily generic, but there is nothing to stop you from adding club-specific information like telling speakers who need to cancel that they should call your VP of Education, rather than just posting an update on the website.
I encourage you to make it serve your needs. As always, give me feedback with your ideas for making it better.
WordPress for Toastmasters aims to be the best website solution for all Toastmasters clubs, but it can particularly serve the needs of online clubs — if you set it up right.
A few issues of particular concern to online clubs:
Dealing with timezones
Sharing your online meeting link
Dealing with Timezones
Online club leaders need to get good at time travel, or at least chronological navigation.
A traditional Toastmasters club attracts members from the local community, all within the same timezone. An online club, or a club that allows online participation, has a potentially global audience. That means dealing with timezones and confusion over timezones.
Some online clubs deal with this by publishing their schedule according to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or an offset from GMT like GMT -5. Personally, I’m not great at timezone math beyond the bounds of the U.S., and I suspect others are worse.
Software to the rescue!
Here is how I would see that attending a hypothetical Hawaii-based online club that meets at 7 pm would mean staying up past midnight in my own frame of reference, on the East Coast of the U.S.
To get this effect, make sure the settings in RSVPMaker (the WordPress plugin for the online calendar) specify that the timezone should be displayed as part of your event listings. You can the time format to either 12-hour clock or 24-hour clock with timezone included (10:00 pm EST or 22:00 EST).
Then also check the checkboxes labeled:
“Show Add to Google / Download to Outlook (iCal) icons”
“Show timezone conversion button next to calendar icons.”
These checkboxes also appear in your meeting templates and should be checked there as well (whatever you specify in your event template becomes the default for all the events based on that template). And we always want to make it easy for people to figure out whether our meetings occur at a time they can attend.
There is also a checkbox in the settings for events and event templates labeled “Display timezone code as part of date/time.” You may not see it if you have that set as the default for your site. The intuseended use is for cases where displaying the timezone is the exception to the rule — for example, when a brick-and-mortar club is hosting an online event.
One other handy resource for helping people do timezone conversions is the dateandtime.com website. I share links to that site in some of my event promotions, but this RSVPMaker feature has the advantage of being built into the website.
In case it’s not obvious: You must have the correct timezone specified in WordPress for the server to announce the correct time. You do that in the General Settings page of the administrator’s dashboard.
My home club rarely uses the RSVP / registration feature of RSVPMaker, but my online club uses it every week to register guests.
Offline, we register guests by asking them to sign a guest book, after we’ve already gotten them in the door. Online, I find it helps a lot to have a list of the guests who may be attending ahead of time. So the website directs them to register if they would like to visit, and we send them the link to the online meeting as part of the confirmation message email.
If one of those guests becomes a member, there is a menu item under Users labeled RSVP List to Members that you can use to quickly create an account for them on the website.
Sharing Your Online Meeting Link
Getting people to attend your online meetings means getting them the link to whatever web conferencing service you use. Some clubs simply publish this on the home page, but as I mentioned I prefer that visitors register first before getting it. On the other hand, I want it to be readily available to members.
One of the ways we can do that is by including the link in the members-only view of the agenda displayed on the website and the version of the agenda we send out by email.
I can do that using “Agenda Note” widgets on the agenda template. Here’s the setup we use at Online Presenters, with the placeholder for the link at the very top of the agenda.
Agenda notes can be set to show up either on the agenda only, on the public view of the website only, or both. This one is set to show on the agenda only.
But it shows up in all versions of the agenda, such as the emailed agenda we use to remind members of upcoming meetings and prompt them to fill open roles.
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.
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:
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:
The user can click that accept link and be instantly added to the agenda.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The message then shows up on the individual’s profile on the member page (shown only to logged in members).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The result 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.
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