You can help keep the club websites associated with the WordPress for Toastmasters project free by advertising on the toastmost.org 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 wordpress.org, 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 toastmost.org site, which is the “software as a service” incarnation of WordPress for Toastmasters.
As more clubs sign up for the toastmost.org 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.
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 wp4toastmasters.com/support/).
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.
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.
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 member who is logged in will see the corresponding opportunities to take any open role:
The sample agendas are intended as a starting point. You can modify them to taste.
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.
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:
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.
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.
The free trial period for WordPress-powered club websites hosted at toastmost.org 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.
Clubs can also use the toastmost.org 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 toastmost.org service.
A toastmost.org site will have a web address in the format myclub.toastmost.org. All toastmost.org sites are SSL secured and have the software preconfigured.
I can also support hosting an independent site at your own domain. See toastmost.org 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 WordPress.com 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 toastmost.org 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 toastmost.org 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And also tell Zoom to use SparkoCam as your audio source, rather than your microphone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The information on this website is for the sole use of Toastmasters' members, for Toastmasters business only. It is not to be used for solicitation and distribution of non-Toastmasters material or information. All rights reserved. Toastmasters International, the Toastmasters International logo and all other Toastmasters International trademarks and copyrights are the sole property of Toastmasters International and may be used only by permission.