Online Voting, Vote Counting for Toastmasters Contests

As part of the planning for a mini-webinar contest at Online Presenters Toastmasters, I cooked up a tool for online voting intended to help both the judges and the Chief Judge / Ballot Counter team compile the results very quickly. This should be of particular interest to clubs that meet online or allow members to attend online. I can see potential for it to be used in a traditional club (or area/division/district) contest as well.

The software is bundled with the latest release of the WordPress for Toastmasters solution, but I’ve also made a version of it available independently (see below).

As the judges are voting, contest organizers can watch the votes roll in on a dashboard that updates every few seconds until everyone has voted:

scoring dashboard
What you see when all judges have voted.

Here’s a video demo of the voting process:

Having some sort of online voting tool strikes me as essential for an online club, where working with the printed ballot forms is awkward. A certain amount of scanning in and emailing forms for speaker and judge eligibility may still be necessary, particularly for an official contest, such as the Video Speech Contest that Toastmasters International makes available to online clubs and other undistricted clubs. But doing that with the actual ballots seems crazy, when all the judges are sitting in front of a computer and can easily enter their votes into an online system.

With online voting, we can let the computer do the math for tallying up the judge’s scores for each contestant and producing a final ranking when all judges have voted.

Online Presenters is piloted this with an unofficial webinar contest. This allowed our Chief Judge to focus on verifying that the computer-generated results are correct. He also provided the judges with alternate ways of contacting him to register their votes if the computerized system should fail.

If you’re using the dashboard in combination with a WordPress for Toastmasters event agenda, you will find a link to the Contest Scoring Dashboard under the agenda menu.

contest menu
Item on the Agenda menu

The setup process goes like this:

  1. Choose the contest you’re going to be running. Pick from the list of standard contests or define your own unofficial contest, as we did with our webinar event.
  2. Either enter a list of contestants or pick a role from the agenda to track as people sign up, so your contestants link will be in sync.
  3. Enter a list of judges and designate one as the Tiebreaking Judge.
  4. Optionally, add a list of members (other than the website editors and administrator) who should have access to the main contest dashboard. For example, your chief judge and ballot counter for the event.
  5. Set the speaking order, either manually or by allowing the software to automatically shuffle the list of contestants.
  6. Prior to the start of the contest, send each judge and his or her personalized link for the online ballot. Also send the link for the Timer, if you will be using the online timing setup.

Since not everyone uses WordPress for Toastmasters, I’ve provided an alternate way you can get access to this tool independently.

Create Contest Page

Give your page a name, such as Area Contest or Video Speech Contest

A few other notes:

  • The requirement to sign your ballot: In an official contest where you want to eliminate any question about whether the online votes are legitimate, I suggest having the judges fill out and sign the paper ballot also, take a picture with their phone and email or otherwise send it to the ballot counter (who can then verify it matches what was submitted online). Or get a ruling from some authority that the online checkbox can be counted as a signature.
  • Use outside of online clubs: In a club that does not meet exclusively online, you might still allow some judges to participate from a remote location via teleconference and vote this way. If only a minority of judges are participating this way, you might not use the software to tally the final result.
  • In person voting on laptops or tablets: For the past few years, I’ve used a Google Sheets spreadsheet on my iPad to tally my scores when acting as a judge, even though I had to record my final vote on a piece of paper. Some contest organizers might choose to encourage use of this system even by judges voting in person. You’ll have to consider whether that makes the identity of the judges too obvious (they’re the ones with the tablets).

Tracking Planned Absences Through the Agenda

Something people have been requesting for a while is an easy way for members to signal that they will miss a specific meeting. Here is what I’ve added:

Planned Absences button and listing on the signup form.

If you place this widget at the bottom of your signup page, members can let the club know they plan to miss the meeting in question by clicking the Planned Absence button. Planned Absences that have been recorded are listed right above the button, along with any “Away Messages.” This information is only displayed to logged in members.

Away Messages, which have been supported for a while now, allow you to signal that you will be missing meetings for some extended period of time (weeks or months) — it’s a message with an expiration date.

Clicking the Planned Absence button works better if I know I’m going to miss, not the next meeting, but the one after that. It’s more precise.

To enable this feature, you must add a placeholder code to your meeting template. I think it works best at the very bottom, as shown below.

Adding the required code in the agenda editor.

The code is:


Or, if you want this information to appear on your agenda:

[tm_absence show_on_agenda="1" ]

The absence / away message information also shows up in a few other contexts, such as the drop down list you use to assign members to roles.

Absences indicated in the dropdown list for assigning roles.

Automatically Suggest Assignments: Are You Sure?

One powerful feature of the WordPress for Toastmasters software that was introduced a few months ago has had some unintended consequences for a number of clubs, including my own. From now on, if you take advantage of the “Suggested Assignments” mode (which previously showed up on menus as “Assign”), you will get this warning:

Are you sure? warning

Even though I had previously made some changes designed to make sure anyone who used this feature understood what it did, it apparently wasn’t as clear as it ought to have been. If you use this feature routinely, you can turn off the warning as a personal preference. Otherwise, you must confirm you know what you’re doing before you can proceed.

In Suggest Assignments mode, the software fills open roles on the agenda based on a list of members without a role. The choices are semi-random but also take into account factors like who has not filled that role recently. As the person assigning roles, you have a chance to review those choices and make changes, but they will be recorded when you click Save Changes.

Unfortunately, I’ve gotten several reports of meeting organizers getting into this mode by mistake, intending to make a single change to agenda, and belatedly realizing they had made a whole batch of assignments they hadn’t intended to make.

The Recommend mode of the agenda editor is similar to Suggest Assignments, except that it kicks off an email telling the chosen member they have been recommended for a specific role. The assignment is not actually recorded until and unless the member accepts. That can be a good way of nudging people to take a role, rather than telling them to do so.

Suggest Assignments is meant to be helpful to clubs whose leaders proactively assign members to roles, rather than waiting for them to volunteer. This feature was was a specific request from a couple of clubs, but it’s not necessarily appropriate for everyone. In fact, it’s now turned off by default. In the Random Assignments section of the Toastmasters screen under settings, you will see options to either turn on Suggest Assignments, turn it on selectively for site Editors, Managers, and Administrators, or leave it turned off.


You can also choose to hide the link advertising the Multi-Meeting Role Planner tool, which allows members to book speeches and other roles for multiple future meetings at once, The display of that link on the agenda is still turned on by default, but you can now turn it off if you prefer.

Let me know if you agree this is an improvement. As always, I welcome other suggestions for how the software can be made better.


David Carr, WordPress for Toastmasters project leader

Keep WordPress for Toastmasters Free: Seeking Small Advertisers, Major Sponsors

You can help keep the club websites associated with the WordPress for Toastmasters project free by advertising on the network of sites or introducing me to potential sponsors.

Keeping the software free is not a problem — I periodically upload the open source code to a repository on, and anyone with the technical skill to configure a self-hosted WordPress website can take advantage of it. That part is easy. However, what is more useful to most club leaders is having access to a free service where a non-techie can sign up for a club website account, invite in members, and immediately begin using that site for marketing/recruiting and to organize their agenda. That was the motivation for establishing the site, which is the “software as a service” incarnation of WordPress for Toastmasters.

As more clubs sign up for the service, the costs of server, storage, and security upgrades are starting to grow. That means the free service needs to be paid for somehow.

The ideal sponsor would be a business or nonprofit that offers services to speakers (I’ve been talking to some of the major online speaker directories) or products and education for people interested in professional development. Toastmasters International itself is unlikely to help because they already subsidize the Free Toast Host service, which they consider to be a good enough option. To provide an alternative, we’ll have to find alternative funding.

sidebar ad
Basic sidebar ad

I will accept advertising for as little as $100 for a one-month placement in the sidebar ad slot that appears on each of the free sites. See (see

My preferred option would be to secure a “gold” sponsor or possibly an exclusive sponsor willing to make a 1-year commitment and partner with me to build the audience for the service. Continue reading “Keep WordPress for Toastmasters Free: Seeking Small Advertisers, Major Sponsors”

Switching Agenda Templates for a Club Contest

Setting a standard meeting template is one of the keys to using the WordPress for Toastmasters software productively. In addition, it can be helpful to have different templates for other types of meetings or events — with a club level contest as a prime example.

If you will hold your contest during one of your regular meeting times, here is how you would switch from your standard meeting template to a contest template.

Switch to contest template

That “Switch Template” option on the menu is new, something I realized was needed to make this option either to find. The other way to get to the “Apply Template to Existing Event” option is through the Dashboard -> RSVP Events -> Event Templates.

To make this more useful, you will want to create event templates that reflect how your club runs its contests. See Sample Contest Agendas: International Speech and Table Topics and Sample Contest Agendas: Evaluation and Humorous Speech for examples.

Sample Contest Agendas: International Speech and Table Topics

For those in the process of organizing a club level edition of the International Speech Contest and Table Topics Contest, here is a follow up to my post on Sample Contest Agendas: Evaluation and Humorous Speech. See also: Switching Agenda Templates for a Club Contest.

These are sample agendas you can use for a club contest where you want to give members an opportunity to sign up online. Copy the text from either of the examples below. Before pasting it into the editor, make sure the WordPress editor is in “Text” mode rather than “Visual.”

Your event templates are listed under RSVP Events -> Event Templates. Click the “New Template” button next to the page title to add a new one.

A sample template called “Contest” is pre-installed by default and includes all the different types of contests, as if they were being held on the same day. You can always start with that one and edit it down to what you really need. The examples I’ve posted here are based on one we’ve used for the contests at my home club, where we for example do Table Topics one day and International Speech on another.

When you toggle back to Visual mode, you will see the placeholder images representing the roles and agenda notes, allowing you to edit them further with the popup editor windows.

In the editor’s visual mode, you will see these represented with placeholder widgets for each role or note on the agenda.

A Table Topics contest template.

A member who is logged in will see the corresponding opportunities to take any open role:

Table Topics contest signup form

The sample agendas are intended as a starting point. You can modify them to taste.

Table Topics Agenda

[agenda_note agenda_display="agenda" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="0"]Sgt. at Arms calls the meeting to the order.[/agenda_note]

[agenda_note agenda_display="agenda" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="0"]President or Presiding Officer introduces the Contest Master.[/agenda_note]

[toastmaster role="Contest Master" count="1" agenda_note="Introduces supporting roles. Leads the meeting." time_allowed="0" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[toastmaster role="Chief Judge" count="1" agenda_note="" time_allowed="0" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[toastmaster role="Timer" count="2" agenda_note="" time_allowed="0" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[toastmaster role="Ballot Counter" count="2" agenda_note="" time_allowed="0" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[toastmaster role="Table Topics Contestant" count="12" agenda_note="" time_allowed="0" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[agenda_note agenda_display="agenda" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="0"]Contest Master opens the awards ceremony.[/agenda_note]

[agenda_note agenda_display="agenda" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="0"]Chief Judge announces the winners.[/agenda_note]

[agenda_note agenda_display="agenda" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="0"]Announcements and conclusion.[/agenda_note]

International Speech Contest Agenda

[agenda_note agenda_display="agenda" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="0"]Sgt. at Arms calls the meeting to the order.[/agenda_note]

[agenda_note agenda_display="agenda" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="0"]President or Presiding Officer introduces the Contest Master.[/agenda_note]

[toastmaster role="Contest Master" count="1" agenda_note="Introduces supporting roles. Leads the meeting." time_allowed="0" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[toastmaster role="Chief Judge" count="1" agenda_note="" time_allowed="0" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[toastmaster role="Timer" count="2" agenda_note="" time_allowed="0" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[toastmaster role="Ballot Counter" count="2" agenda_note="" time_allowed="0" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[toastmaster role="Videographer" count="1" agenda_note="" time_allowed="0" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[toastmaster role="International Speech Contestant" count="6" agenda_note="" time_allowed="0" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[agenda_note agenda_display="agenda" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="0"]Contest Master opens the awards ceremony.[/agenda_note]

[agenda_note agenda_display="agenda" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="0"]Chief Judge announces the winners.[/agenda_note]

[agenda_note agenda_display="agenda" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="0"]Announcements and conclusion.[/agenda_note]

Updates to the Agenda Sign Up and Editing Modes

New dropdown menu lets you navigate to future forms in either signup mode or edit mode. The screenshot also highlights the new planner link, which members can use to sign up for multiple future meetings on one screen.

There are couple of different ways you can update the agenda when signed in as a member, and the latest WordPress for Toastmasters update tries to make it easier to switch between them. One of these is particularly oriented toward using the site from a mobile phone.

The different views are:

  • Signup – the default where you click Take Role on any open role or Remove Me to withdraw from a role
  • Edit Signups – the mode you use as a meeting planner (Toastmaster of the Day, VP of Education, or other club leader) assigning people to open roles.
  • Assign – a variation on edit mode where random / suggested assignments are shown (random assignments explained in more detail below)
  • Recommend – like Assign, except instead of being assigned to the role, members will get an email asking them to confirm acceptance
  • Planner – a new tool that shows your current assignments and open roles you can take for multiple future meetings.

One of my fellow club members who has been using this software for years now told me she was confused when trying to navigate our website on her phone and using the dropdown menu under Edit Signups to switch from meeting to meeting. She found it awkward that it opened in editing mode when she was simply trying to sign herself up for a future meeting.

As shown above, the dropdown menu has been changed to show each date twice with the editing mode listed second. As a meeting organizer, I find it useful to switch between meetings in editing mode (particularly when recording entries from a paper signup sheet), but that shouldn’t necessarily be the default.

This should also make the agenda a little more smartphone friendly.

agenda on phone
Menu on an Android phone

Assign, Recommend, and Random Assignments

The random assignments feature is intended as a feature to help a VPE or other meeting organizer fill the agenda, while also trying to steer members toward a role they may not have filled recently (both for variety and to help them fill educational goals such as Competent Leader).

Here is the regular editing mode:

Editing Mode
Editing mode lets you see open roles

If you click Assign or Recommend, or the link for displaying randomly suggested assignments, you will get the view below with the suggestions highlighted with red text. These are not confirmed until you save the form.

Randomly suggested assignments

The difference between Assign and Recommend reflects how different clubs run their meetings and organize their educational programs. Some clubs tell members what role they will fill on what date, while others are more comfortable asking than telling.

In the Recommend role, the member gets an email suggesting that they take a specific meeting role, and the message includes a link they can click to accept that role. The role remains open until and unless they click to accept (or write back to the meeting organizer to confirm, in which case the organizer can then assign them to the role).

The Assign Mode is basically the same as Edit Signups, but with the random assignments feature turned on. If you accept the randomly assigned suggestions and save the form, those meeting roles will no longer be open — they will be assigned to the people you chose.

WordPress Club Website Free Trial Extended to 6 Months

The free trial period for WordPress-powered club websites hosted at is now 6 months, rather than 60 days. The idea is to make the trial long enough for a pre-charter club to launch or for an existing club to prove that the site helps them market their club, recruit members, and organize meetings.

Register at

Clubs can also use the service for their preliminary testing, even if they ultimately decide to host with another service that supports WordPress.

The WordPress for Toastmasters software suite extends WordPress, a professional web content management platform, by adding Toastmasters-specific features such as agenda management and member progress tracking, as well as site branding that meets Toastmasters International requirements.

The software runs on any web hosting service that runs WordPress.

The primary author of these software extensions is me, David F. Carr, DTM. I originally created the software for my home club, Club Awesome in Coral Springs, FL, and more recently have been exploring the requirements of online clubs as president of Online Presenters. My company Carr Communications Inc., operates the service.

A site will have a web address in the format All sites are SSL secured and have the software preconfigured.

I can also support hosting an independent site at your own domain. See for details.

Why Isn’t It Free?

Competing with “free” is always tough, and I understand that Toastmasters clubs are used to getting a free site on the Free Toast Host service underwritten by Toastmasters International. However, I don’t believe FTH comes close to matching the web publishing and social media marketing tools you get from WordPress. And free WordPress options such as the service do not support the Toastmasters-specific functionality I offer.

Keep in mind that the software itself is free and open source, representing countless hours of time invested in making it better not only for my own club but for others who take advantage of it. I’m giving a lot away, just because I want to share it.

I originally set out to offer as a free service — with “free” meaning advertiser or sponsor supported. That would still be my preference, except that I haven’t found a sufficiently generous sponsor.

Even then, free wouldn’t be free — the server and other resources such as SSL security certificates are not free to me — so they have to be paid for somehow.

Still, hosting on is less than you would pay for a reputable WordPress hosting service elsewhere and also simpler (I take care of many technical requirements so you don’t have to). And if you decide to install the software on some other hosting service, I am still available to answer your questions.

New Online Timing Lights Tool

WordPress for Toastmasters has a new online timer tool that was particularly designed for online clubs, although it could also be useful for brick-and-mortar clubs who would like to use a laptop or a digital display in their meeting room to display timing indicators. Online Timer is a new option on the Agenda menu.

You can also use the timing tool independent of using WordPress for Toastmasters agenda management here

The advantage of the integrated version is it can pull speech timing requirements from the agenda. This tool is new and may need more work — feedback is welcome. You can try the integrated version of the timer using real speech projects from an Online Presenters meeting here

Here’s a quick demo:

And is here is what it looks like on a mobile phone:

The online timer is based partly on another open source software product, Toastmasters Timer by Guy Ellis, who did a lot of the hard work in terms of getting the math right for timing calculations. I’ve added some things to make it suitable for use by an online club.

Whenever the Timer hits the stop button, the time for that speech or other activity is logged on the left hand side of the screen. If you include the speaker’s name, either manually or by clicking one of the buttons with the name of a speaker (pulled from the agenda), their name will be shown above the time record. One of the things we’ve done at my Online Presenters club is enter the times into the chat in Zoom, and having the times automatically logged should make it easy to copy and paste them. I think it could be worth using this tool for that purpose alone, even without the screen sharing.

Log of speech times

The online timer can also be set up to sound a chime when each timing benchmark is past (useful because speakers sometimes lose track of the video feed from the timer — at least my club has had that issue with the Zoom video conferencing platform).

Update: The instructions for getting the automated chime to sound in an online meeting are included below, but I’ve had second thoughts on whether it’s more trouble than it’s worth. I think the biggest value of this tool is to fetch speech times from the agenda, make the green/yellow/red indicators appear like clockwork, and produce a log of the times for each speaker.

Here is an example of how this is meant to be displayed in Zoom.

Timing feed as a thumbnail image in Zoom.

In addition to the details shared in the video, there were a few other details I needed to get right to make it work properly for online screen sharing.

One thing that threw me is that the timing digits (if displayed) appear backwards to me when I see my own image in Zoom. However, the numbers are readable to all the other participants. This has something to do with the fact that we’re all used to seeing ourselves in a mirror, so Zoom displays a mirrored image of the feed from our own webcam, and this same effect is applied to any image I project using Webcam software. (An earlier version of this blog advised people to use a mirroring effect in SparkoCam to “correct” for this effect, but that would only make it look right to me and wrong to everyone else).

If you want people to hear the chime at green / yellow / red, you need to set SparkoCam to capture system sound.

Adding system sound as an audio source.

And also tell Zoom to use SparkoCam as your audio source, rather than your microphone.

Making Zoom listen to SparkoCam audio.

Note that with the settings I’m showing here, you would have to switch the audio feed back to your microphone the next time you want to talk. By selecting system sound and no other audio source, I’m effectively muting my microphone. (It’s supposed to be possible to add your microphone feed to the SparkoCam audio as well, but I don’t have that working yet.)

Again, this is all experimental, so give me your feedback if you discover a better way.

Update: just figured out it’s also possible to do a picture-in-picture effect with the desktop feed in SparkoCam if you don’t want your picture to go away. You click the + button in the Webcam panel to add an additional source you want to include with your webcam video. Then turn on the desktop sharing.

Picture in picture effect with timing tool

BTW, I show the option to select a part of your desktop in the video tutorial above partly because I could not get a couple of the other options to work. SparkoCam on Windows 10 crashed repeatedly when I tried the “Application window” and “Follow cursor” options.

Recommended Setup for Online Toastmasters Clubs

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
  • Registering guests
  • 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.

Toggling between timezones

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 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.

Note: the “Show in my timezone button” relies on a JavaScript that fetches the timezone settings on the user’s local computer. If the timezone is wrong — for example, a business traveler using hotel wifi might see a translation into their home timezone rather than their current location.

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.

Registering Guests

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.

Setting up an Agenda Note containing the link

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 online meeting link shown in the agenda email