Editing Signups for Future Dates

For the VP of Education or other officer recording offline signups in the online system, there are a few different ways of navigating to future dates where you need to record information.

  • Clicking on the top Edit Signups menu link will take you to the editing form for whatever meeting you’re currently looking at. Below that, you will see a listing of other dates you can view. Click on any of those dates to view the agenda in editing mode.
  • The sidebar widget shows the next few dates, and you can click “Show More” to see a longer listing. (The number of future meetings shown is configurable by a site administrator).
  • If your site includes a Calendar page (in the example below, it’s labeled meetings), you can use the links on the calendar to navigate to any date.

If you land on any event listing, clicking “Edit Signups” will display the editing form.

Here is the show-and-tell version

 

Is WordPress for Toastmasters Easy To Use?

The New Year’s season is a time for reflection, and here are some of my thoughts about the question posed in the title. It may be a better question for others to answer, since I am totally biased, but I’ll try. I am also fishing for ways of discussing these issues more intelligently in a webinar planned for January 19.

The WordPress for Toastmasters project is a spin-off of work I originally did to create a better website for my home club, Club Awesome, starting in 2012. I wanted a more professional quality online publishing and social media platform for my club to bring in visitors and showcase the talents of our members. With a little customization, I figured I could combine that with Toastmasters-specific functionality for meeting role signup that was as good or better than what was offered on Free Toast Host.

I created the WordPress for Toastmasters website in the summer of 2014 to share the WordPress extensions I had created with the world as open source software and as a hosted service. A lot of the features for tracking member progress in the program were added later, in response to requests from officers at other clubs.

When promoting this combination, I often describe WordPress as a web-based word processor that gives you all the tools you need to write, edit, and publish articles that can include links, images, video, and other multimedia. What you do with it is up to you, but the tools to tell the story of what makes your club special are all there.

There is no question that WordPress is a stronger general-purpose web publishing platform than Free Toast Host, largely as the result of scale — it’s used by an estimated 27% of all websites, including professional sites like the ones shown below.

Some of the professional websites built on WordPress
Mobile layout for a website using the Lectern theme.

The WordPress platform benefits from the fact that web developers from Bloomberg and the New Yorker and lots of independent programming and design consultancies contribute code to make the core software better, fixing bugs and suggesting improvements. As the web changes, for example because more people are browsing it on their phones and their computers, WordPress keeps pace.

I can take advantage of those improvements, for example by including the principles of responsive web design (layouts that adapt for display on mobile devices) in the Lectern theme for Toastmasters clubs.

Signing up for a role on a future meeting agenda and performing other basic tasks also works from your phone, at least in a pinch.

The Advantage of Free Toast Host

In contrast, the advantage of Free Toast Host is that it has one purpose: hosting websites for Toastmasters clubs. You start with a template for a generic Toastmasters club and customize it as necessary.

Because the solution I promote is grafted onto a general purpose publishing platform, there are lots of configuration options on the webmaster’s administration dashboard that may be irrelevant or distracting. I go into more detail about why it’s worth overcoming these challenges below, but first I want to acknowledge them.

If all your club needs is a basic website that has a picture of the officers on the home page and details on where and when you meet, maybe you should stick with Free Toast Host if you already have a site established there.

I think the WordPress alternative has the greatest potential for new clubs and those aggressively marketing themselves or trying to build / rebuild their membership.

Okay, But Is It Easy?

I think WordPress is easy to use, but then again I have been using it for years. I would say it’s easy, once you learn how to use it. There is a learning curve, but plenty of Toastmasters clubs have created their own WordPress blogs independently of my efforts. Typically, they use a WordPress blog as a club marketing and publishing platform they use in parallel with Free Toast Host or Easy Speak, which they continue to use to manage their agenda.

One reason it’s worth the effort to learn to use WordPress is that you are learning a transferable skill that you can also apply to marketing other business and nonprofit ventures. Because it’s a web standard, you can also find tutorials on configuring and operating a WordPress website from many different sources.

My innovations:

  • A WordPress theme (site design) that incorporates the Toastmasters International-approved website banners and the required legal disclaimer about use of their logo and trademark.
  • A set of plugins for agenda management and member performance tracking, eliminating the need to use a separate web application such as Easy Speak.
  • A recommended website structure for club blogs, with a welcome page, a blog, and a calendar for club meetings and other events.

Whether the software I have created on top of WordPress is easy to use is a separate question. This is a labor of love, but so far it’s pretty much a one-man show (I’d be happy to share credit with other web developers and designers who make contributions). As an agenda and club management platform, it’s probably not as sophisticated as Easy Speak, and people who love that software often are not tempted to switch. On the other hand, Easy Speak and Free Toast Host have their own learning curve. Club officers not previously trained on one of those two may find the WordPress for Toastmasters alternative easier to learn, or at least no harder.

You can help me make my add-ons easier to use by giving feedback. In the beginning, I only had to make the process of creating and customizing a meeting agenda easy enough for me because I was VPE at the only club that used it. Later, I came up with a set of visual widgets that make it easier for the non-technical VPE to add a custom role or a bit of stage directions to the agenda, or change the number of speakers and evaluators (as shown in this video, excerpted from a previous webinar). Many of those changes were driven by feedback from club officers, at my own club and elsewhere.

If you tell me what is harder than it ought to be, I’ll do my best to make it easier. Not necessarily easy, but easier!

Adding a Customizable Agenda Layout

Club leaders who want a different look for their meeting agenda than provided by my suggested design can now take matters into their own hands, particularly if they know (or are willing to learn) HTML and CSS coding.

Until recently, there were two agenda layout options, “plain” and “sidebar”, with sidebar as the one I have been promoting by default. The agenda layout with sidebar gives you a sidebar on the left hand side of the page to use for information like the club mission, notes on upcoming district events, and a listing of club officers.

Now, there is a 3rd option, “custom,” on the Toastmasters settings screen in WordPress. When you select “custom,” a new document named “Agenda Layout” will be added to the listing under RSVP Events. You will also see a link on the Toastmasters settings screen labeled “Edit Custom Agenda Layout.”

When you edit this document, you will have access to the basic HTML structure of the agenda, with placeholders showing for the data that gets pulled from the database. Beneath the content editing box, you will also see a place where you can alter the CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) code used to style and format the content. You will be starting with essentially the same layout as “sidebar” but can alter it however you would like.

Here is an example of a layout with a different header image:

customizable-agenda-result
Custom header image for agenda

and here is what the Agenda Layout document looks like in the WordPress editor:

customizable-agenda-editor
Customized agenda layout in the editor

If you toggle the Text tab of the editor to see the underlying code, you will find I used a simple table layout to separate the sidebar content from the main agenda content (roles and who is filling them).

The bracketed codes are placeholders known as shortcodes in WordPress jargon. These pull in the database-generated content that will be used to fill in the details for a specific meeting agenda.

[tmlayout_club_name] – pulls in the club name, using the website title. You could delete this and just type in the name, since you’re customizing this specifically for your club.

[tmlayout_meeting_date] – displays the meeting date.

[tmlayout_sidebar] – displays the sidebar content

[tmlayout_main] – displays the main agenda content of roles and assignments

You can make some basic changes to the structure and organization of the agenda by for example changing the table layout or by replacing the table cells with divs and aligning those divs with CSS. It helps to have some knowledge of CSS, but you may be able to puzzle out some details by sight.

For example, this block of code —


body, p, div, td, th {
font-size: 12px;
line-height: 1.3;
font-family:"Times New Roman", Times, serif;
}

— defines the base font size for most of the text on the agenda. By changing 12px to 14px or 18px, you could make the font larger.

Or to change just the paragraphs within the table cell for the agenda listing, which has an id of “agenda”, you could do this:


#agenda p {
font-size: 16px;
}

When I first experimented with changing the page banner, it didn’t come out right because I added the image into a div with an id=”banner” that had a fixed height, and the new image was larger. I solved that issue by eliminating the div tag.

At least one person who contacted me specifically wanted to change the banner at the top of the agenda, so I hope this capability will be useful.

Whatever changes you decide to make, be prepared to experiment before you get it right. Good luck. If you come up with a design you are proud of, let me know — maybe your work can be the source for a new, improved default agenda layout for others.

If you do change the HTML structure, keep in mind that some HTML coding works better in the context of the feature that allows you to download the agenda to Microsoft Word. That is one of the reasons I used table formatting to separate the sidebar from the rest of the agenda, as opposed to divs with CSS positioning.

Note: For those hosting their own websites, both RSVPMaker and RSVPMaker for Toastmasters must be upgraded for this feature to become available.

Theme/Words of the Day on the Agenda

This post was prompted by a query from someone asking how to add an editable field for a meeting theme and words of the day to the agenda.

This is one of those features in the Toastmasters software for WordPress works the way  it does because it answered a specific need for my home club that may not be exactly the way others would want it to work. Those also tend to be the relatively poorly documented features — I’m trying to do better! — and may evolve over time as I get a better understanding of what other clubs want.

But here’s how it works so far, using the example of Club Awesome.

Every week, we include a blurb about the theme and words of the day at the bottom of the printed agenda.

themewords-agenda

In the editor, that is set up with this code (showing the editor in Text mode)

themewords_shortcode

The code is [rsvpmaker_upcoming themewords=”1″]. There is no popup editor for it in the WordPress Visual editor like there is for the role setup tags, but it is represented as a placeholder image in the visual editor.

On the front end of the website, you can edit the contents associated with this field at the same time that you may be assigning members to specific meeting roles.

themewords-editing

In our club, the VP of Education usually picks the meeting theme and assigns a couple of words of the day (we have a contest for best use of one of the words). Making this field editable as part of the same process as assigning meeting roles is easier than making the change in the WordPress editor.

The “agenda notes” codes on the agenda fill a somewhat similar purpose, except we typically use them for content that stays the same from week to week. I think of these as “stage directions” — in the example above, you can see “Toastmasters of the day gives out the awards,” which is a standard part of how we close out the meeting.

The theme and words of the day, on the other hand, are different every week.

TODO: Make this component easier to customize, for example by providing a way of changing the headline to something other than “Theme/Words.” Any other requests?

Email List Integration for Your Toastmasters Club

WordPress for Toastmasters supports several options for sending email to your membership, particularly for the purpose of collaborating to fill openings on the agenda. This article specifically discusses integration with Mailman, an open source mailing list management utility often included with web hosting accounts. When you add member accounts to the website, the email addresses will automatically be added to the mailing list. Email addresses will automatically be removed from the list when user accounts are deleted.

This allows you to write to an address such as members@mytmclub.org and have your message automatically sent to all club members without the need to look up their individual email addresses. I find it particularly useful for forwarding on information received from the district level, such as details about upcoming conferences, contests, or training events. Optionally, you can also establish a second email list just for officers.

Here is an example of a message sent this way, with the club name added to the subject line in brackets and a footer added to the body of the message with mailing list info.

Sample mailing list message.
Sample mailing list message.

Note: This feature is not enabled by default with the free websites I have been offering on the toastmost.org domain because I haven’t found a good way to automatically provision these accounts. The section of the administrator’s Toastmasters settings screen related to mailing list setup features is not even displayed on your accounts for that reason. However, I can set it up for you upon request.

If you are using the WordPress for Toastmasters software on your own hosting, check to see if your host supports Mailman. For example, if your web host uses the Cpanel utility for site management, the Cpanel mailing list function will take you to this setup page for creating a Mailman list.

Mailman list setup in Cpanel
Mailman list setup in Cpanel

After creating the list, click on the Manage link to go to the Mailman administrator’s dashboard. From here, you can further customize your list settings.

How Mailman Works

By default, any list member can send messages to the whole list. Any message received from an email address not on the list will be held for moderation. This helps prevent the list becoming a more efficient way of sending spam. However, you can designate a list of email addresses not on the list from which messages should be accepted.

You can designate multiple list administrators and list moderators with the authority to approve messages that are held for moderation.

Moderation tends to be an issue with members who have multiple email addresses, for example a personal email address, a work email address, and an address assigned by the Toastmasters district organization (for example, to an Area Director). If the list receives a message from one of those valid email addresses, you can approve it and add it to the “Accepts” list (messages from this address should be accepted in the future) at the same time.

Here is what that looks like:

Approving a message and adding the sender to the "Accepts" list (email address is checked and "Accepts" radio button selected).
Approving a message and adding the sender to the “Accepts” list (email address is checked and “Accepts” radio button selected).

Setup for Automatic Sync with Mailman

To keep the membership list consistent with the Mailman mailing list, want to record a few key settings on the Toastmasters settings screen in WordPress.

WordPress will post updates to the list almost exactly as a user would. For example, in my example of a list hosted at toastmost.org, the url for general options is …
https://toastmost.org/mailman/admin/voice_toastmost.org/general

… and the url for viewing the member list is …
https://toastmost.org/mailman/admin/voice_toastmost.org/members

What we’re going to record on the settings screen is the first part of that address, before the words “general” and “member”

Copying the root url for Mailman
Copying the root url for Mailman

We then record that info on the Toastmasters settings screen, along with the mailing list email address and the account password.

Mailman entries in Toastmasters settings.
Mailman entries in Toastmasters settings.

Once you have saved this information, you should be able to click on “Add current members to mailing list” to make the program sync for the first time with the email addresses of your organization’s members. Check the Members screen in Mailman to verify that it worked.

In addition to being used behind the scenes to keep the lists in sync, the account password information will be displayed to logged in members who have officers rights on the WordPress dashboard. This allows them to log in and make administrative changes manually, such as adding and removing email addresses not handled by the automated process.

Recommended Mailman Settings

You may have to experiment to find the settings that work for your club, but here are some that have worked for me.

General Settings

Add any additional list administrator / list moderator addresses. It helps to give more than one person this authority.

Prefix for subject line of postings

[Club Voice] in the example above. Defaults to the list name, so voice@toastmost.org would be just [Voice] by default

Where are replies to list messages directed?

“This list” if you want replies to automatically go to everyone. Otherwise, “Sender” so replies only go to the sender (unless the recipient clicks “Reply All”)

Send monthly password reminders:

No

Send welcome message to newly subscribed members

No (or if Yes, be sure to customize the message)

Send mail to poster when their posting is held for approval? 

Yes

Maximum length in kilobytes (KB) of a message body. Use 0 for no limit. 

0

Privacy section -> Sender Filters

List of non-member addresses whose postings should be automatically accepted. 

This is where you can enter a list of alternate email addresses for members, such as a work email for someone who is on the member list under their personal email address.

Content Filtering

Should Mailman filter the content of list traffic according to the settings below?

<p”>No (unless you have trouble with inappropriate content being sent, you probably want to allow members to send file attachments and other content this might interfere with)

A Note on Security

Mailman is a separate piece of software, very established but not terribly sexy. It gets the job done. You should understand I have a limited ability to customize it. The integration method I’m using is very basic and posts the application password with each transaction. The risk of posting to a url on the same server may not be all that great, but ideally you should be posting to an encrypted version of the url (https rather than http).

Setting up encryption on your website is less complicated and expensive than it used to be, thanks to the Let’s Encrypt project to distribute free SSL digital security certificates. If your host uses Cpanel, check to see if Let’s Encrypt is enabled for your account or ask your host if it can be turned on for your account.

I actually used this feature unencrypted on the website for my home club for years and never had a problem, but your mileage may vary.

New: Random Assignment of Roles

When filling the gaps on the agenda for a particular meeting, you can now get the software to randomly assign members who have not taken a role to fill each opening.

Here is how that looks:

Randomly assign members to roles.
Randomly assign members to roles.

You will see the “show random assignments” link in both the edit signups and recommend modes of the agenda editor. When you click that link, the software will automatically plug members who have not been assigned a role into the open slots. Note that the software also displays some clues as to how recently the member has attended a meeting and how recently the member has filled that particular role. You have the opportunity to change the assignments or recommendations before submitting the form. If someone hasn’t shown up in months, you might think twice before counting on them to fill an important role.

In the editor’s edit signups mode, submitting the form will assign members to roles. In the recommend mode, the member receives a recommendation that they take the role and must confirm before that role is firmly assigned to them. I’ve learned that some clubs rely more on volunteers, while others dictate what roles users will take in upcoming meetings, so the software tries to support both styles.

I have received a few of requests for this feature, which apparently exists in some other software for Toastmasters clubs. This feature is available on toastmost.org websites and included with version 2.2 of the open source version, RSVPMaker for Toastmasters. It may still require more fine tuning.

You can try it on the demo site (demo.wp4toastmasters.com user: member, password: member).

Also new in this update, you can now change the number of future meetings to be displayed on the signup sheet from the default, which is 3. If you go up to 5 or 6, you will probably want to print the page in landscape rather than portrait orientation. This wouldn’t work well for my club, which has a fairly long list of roles, but might for some others. This was added on request of one particular VPE.

Webinar Replay: Getting the Most Out of WordPress for Toastmasters

The video below is a replay of a webinar held on August 31, 2016, broadcast via YouTube Live. Although some people complained of technical problems during the live event, the playback should work for you just like any other YouTube video. Farther down on this page, you can see some of the comments and questions that were posted during the event (and you can add your own).

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.