Updated Member Performance Tracking / Editing (Video)

Here is a look at the new tabbed interface for the reports and editor functions related to member performance reporting.

The goal of these changes is to make it easier to navigate between the  basic and advanced reports and to go from there to the editing screens (only available to those users to whom you’ve given the right to edit statistics in the system).

Also significant:

  • One-click editing of to-do items shown on the Competent Leader and Advanced Awards reports, allowing you to quickly check off a requirement that’s showing as TO DO when it should be DONE.
  • An add speech function for recording a speech that may have occurred outside of the context of a regular meeting.

add_speech

Answering the “Why is this free?” question

dollar-1175048_960_720You’ve probably heard warnings like “There ain’t no such thing as free lunch” or “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold” as cautions against things being offered for free. I’ve encountered some of that skepticism in my promotion of WordPress for Toastmasters. People are waiting for the punchline, watching for my deep, dark ulterior motive.

It’s not all that mysterious, but let me give as straightforward of an answer as I can.

A little background: My name is David F. Carr, and I’m the prime mover behind the WordPress for Toastmasters project. I spent most of my career as a technology journalist at Internet World, Baseline Magazine, and Information Week and continue to exercise those muscles in my blog on Forbes.com. These days, I make most of my money as a ghostwriter and editor working with business and technology leaders. I’m also the author of a book, Social Collaboration for Dummies, which is about digital productivity strategies for business. The hands-on web development work I do is motivated by a desire to create online experiences that apply the lessons I’ve learned from my study of digital businesses.

My most widely used digital product is an events plugin for WordPress called RSVPMaker. The open source version of the software for Toastmasters I created is RSVPMaker for Toastmasters and the theme that supports Toastmasters branding is Lectern.

Because not everyone who wants to do web marketing for their club is a techie who wants to mess with configuring WordPress plugins and themes, I am offering free websites on something much like the FreeToastHost model. FTH established toastmastersclubs.org as the domain where all club sites are hosted (mysite.toastmastersclubs.org), and I have toastmost.org, where club sites get a web address in the format mysite.toastmost.org.

Which brings us to the why question. Some answers:

  • I’m a raging egomaniac. I’m proud of the software I created, originally for my own club, and want other people to be impressed.
  • Because the WordPress software I built on top of is free and open source, my plugin software had to be free and open source to be distributed through wordpress.org. (There is some wiggle room for “premium” add-ons). I get a tremendous head start from building on WordPress as a the foundation for web content management, and it in turn benefits from the contributions of thousands of volunteers.
  • The free websites for this project are running on a server I’m already paying for, which so far has adequate capacity to spare. If thousands of clubs were to go live on the service, I would have a greater need to offset expenses with advertising, donations, or some other form of revenue.
  • This is an opportunity to make professional contacts with Toastmasters all over the world, some of whom may have a writing, editing, or web consulting project to steer my way.
  • I’m following the same path as the developers of Free Toast Host and Easy-Speak, also volunteer-led projects.
  • I’m crazy: this is one definite possibility I have entertained, on days when I find myself investing time in this project that might be better spent on paying work.

If operating the free hosted club websites sites becomes too expensive, I could close the door to new registrations and still support the “early adopters.” That is, I don’t want to pull the rug out from under anyone who sets up a free site. And I would very much like to make this work on a self-sustaining basis.

Meanwhile, the availability of the open source software means Toastmasters clubs always have the opportunity to operate one of these sites independently. Using the multisite capability of WordPress, districts could potentially host websites for all their constituent clubs. Other sponsors could set up sites on the toastmost.org model anywhere in the world.

Setting the software free creates many opportunities, which I hope you will take advantage of.

The Business Case for WordPress for Toastmasters

WP4Toastmasters Comparison with AlternativesThe slideshow below is my summary of the business case for WordPress for Toastmasters and how it compares with the alternatives for club marketing and management.

I acknowledge that the comparisons are self-serving and subjective. I do not mean to be disrespectful to the creators of Free Toast Host and Easy-Speak. Those products are also the work of good, dedicated, and generous Toastmasters. I just have a different approach that has worked well for my club and a small but growing number of other clubs. Also, while other Toastmasters software projects benefit from dedicated volunteer coders who happen to be Toastmasters, a WordPress-based solution benefits from the contributions of thousands of web developers from outside the Toastmasters world. Only my additions are homegrown.

If anyone would like to use or modify these slides to pitch the concept to their own club, they are available to download: WP4Toastmasters Comparison with Alternatives.pptx.

 

WordPress for Toastmasters Demo / Coaching Offer

wordpress-4-toastmasters-flatWith new Toastmasters leaders to be sworn in a few months from now, this could be a good time to think about revamping your club website.

I am currently scheduling one-on-one or small group coaching sessions to answer your questions, get feedback on aspects of the software that still need improvement, and help you launch a more effective club website.

You can join one of the scheduled meetings listed below or reserve a time on my calendar using the form at the bottom of this page.

WordPress for Toastmasters takes advantage of a standard web publishing and online marketing platform (WordPress) and adds software and design elements specific to the needs of a Toastmasters club. For me, this project is a labor of love: something I created for my own club’s use and have used successfully to improve our online marketing and recruiting, while also saving our officers work by automating routine tasks. Having invested the effort in making it useful to everyone, I would love to see more clubs taking advantage of it. Even if it’s not right for you, please let new clubs that are launching or clubs that need to reinvigorate their marketing know that it is an option.

Currently scheduled:

Request another time, write me with a couple of possible times we could meet. If possible, I am trying to get at least a small group of people together for each of these briefings, so if a few club officers can agree on a time, that’s even better.

If you are unable to keep the appointment, please let me know. I have had several people fail to show up at a time they specifically requested.

Collecting and Analyzing Member Data with WordPress for Toastmasters

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Editing meeting roles on Android

The WordPress for Toastmasters project aims to let Toastmasters clubs use one website for social media marketing and online recruiting but also for managing meetings and tracking member progress.

The publishing aspect will always be stronger, given that WordPress benefits from the work of thousands of commercial and volunteer programmers and is used by professional publications like The New Yorker, as well as marketing organizations like Disney. I created the Toastmasters-specific functions myself, with the help of a small (but growing) circle of advisers from other clubs who want to see this project succeed. On the other hand, those are the things that make this WordPress for Toastmasters.

Recent upgrades have improved:

  • The self-service features, where members sign up for roles online.
  • The meeting role editor, including features that make it easier to update the roster from your phone or tablet.
  • The reports tracking member progress toward Competent Communicator, Competent Leader, and the advanced awards.
  • The tool club leaders use to edit member records, correcting errors and recording accomplishments that occur outside the context of a club meeting.

The challenge is to make this information complete and accurate enough to be useful, without over-complicating things.

I suspect some clubs will use this part of the software more seriously than others. However, several of the Toastmasters leaders who gave me feedback on improvements to the software are very serious about tracking member statistics this way.

You do not necessarily have to treat the reports produced by the software as your official club records to get some value out of them. The original idea was simply to report on data the system gathers along the way, capturing it off meeting agendas. For example, over time agenda data should give you a pretty good idea of which members are close to achieving their CC award. But to make the report complete, you would also have to record a starter set of data about where members were in their Toastmasters journey before you started using the software. There is also a process for reconciling data based on the plan for a meeting (as reflected by the agenda) with who actually showed up and spoke (sometimes two different things).

According to this report, Abraham Lincoln is working on a second CC, but some other members could use a nudge.
According to this report, Abraham Lincoln is working on a second CC, but some other members could use a nudge.

The Competent Leader Progress report screen is one of the most complicated (and may still need more refinement) but tries to fill in the menu of requirement in different categories, according to the data gathered through the system. It’s designed to show where the gaps are.

Note that this report will not tell you whether the member has fulfilled the requirement of being evaluated for how well they filled a role such as Timer or Evaluator, only that they did it.

See who has fulfilled CL requirements and where the gaps are for different members.
See who has fulfilled CL requirements and where the gaps are for different members.

The Advanced Award Progress reports screen is new, designed to track speeches from the advanced manuals plus other requirements for ACB, ACS, ACG, ALB, and ALS awards on the way to DTM.

This member has completed two advanced manuals (ACB) and is working on an ACS.

Yes, I’m aware that there is a Revitalized Education Program coming, bringing with it significant changes in this structure of advancement. Meanwhile, I’m trying to help my fellow club leaders do a better job of managing within the requirements that exist today.

Editing Meeting Roles

A large part of that is making it as easy as possible for individual members to sign up for roles online and for club leaders to edit those records as necessary. When you are logged into the website, “Edit Signups” will be one of the options shown on the menu at the top of the signup form.

edit-signups-menu

When you switch into editing mode, the “Take Role” buttons are replaced by a drop-down list of club members, allowing you to assign roles to them.

Editing role assignments
Editing role assignments

The demo below is of some refinements to the process of editing the roster of members filling roles at a meeting, particularly with regard to making it easier to do from a mobile device.

The rest of the data editing functions are on the back end of the website, on the administrator’s dashboard. Here is what that menu looks like as of April 2016.

toastmasters-menu
Administrator’s menu

A regular member without editing rights on the site would see a subset of these options. Key items on this list:

  • My Progress – a report where members can see their own progress, according to the data in the system.
  • Edit Member Stats – the screen where club leaders can record or correct member statistics for more accurate reports.
  • Reconcile – Visit this screen after a meeting to record any disparities with the agenda, such as members who did not show up to fulfill their roles and others who stepped up at the last minute and ought to get credit. Also, if the member did not indicate the specific manual and project for a speech prior to the meeting, it can be recorded here for more accurate tracking.
  • Record Attendance – If you choose to record attendance through the system, you can do it here. Members will already be recorded as having been present if they fulfilled a role.
  • Import Free Toast Host Data – If you previously used Free Toast Host, you may be able to import a useful starter set of data by following the instructions on this screen.

By focusing on these data gathering and analysis capabilities, I hope to make WordPress for Toastmasters a more complete solution for clubs who want to get more serious about the use of their website as a productivity tool, as well as a marketing platform.

How a Blog Makes a Toastmasters Club Website Stronger

This morning a guest at Club Awesome Toastmasters, who came in the door ready and willing to join, answered this way when we asked how she found us: “Well, I saw this was the club closest to me, and then I looked at your website — and I was sold!”

Blog post promoting a conference presentation.
Blog post promoting a conference presentation.

That was music to my ears, of course. One of the things she saw coming to our website was a lot of recent activity, conveyed through the blog. For example, recent posts celebrate wins by our members at an area contest, as well as a series of videos previewing a presentation one of our club leaders will be giving at the district conference.

What blogging software gives you is the ability to post new content more easily, using a web-based word processor. Blog posts are automatically organized with the newest content first and presented in a search engine friendly format that tends to make your website rank higher. Having new content on the blog is how we show prospective members that we have a lot going on, that Toastmasters looks like fun, and that ours is the right club for them.

You use your blog in concert with social media, creating posts to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and whatever other social sites you use that link back to the content on your website.

This was the reason we switched, several years ago, from hosting our club website on Free Toast Host (the default service used by most clubs) to basing it on the WordPress blogging software. While I have invested countless hours in custom programming to add Toastmasters specific features, the social media marketing and recruiting boost we get for our club is something we get for free by taking advantage of WordPress. I particularly like how easy it is to include video in a post and to cross-promote content on social media.

I also believe club officers who learn to use WordPress are learning a professional skill, since WordPress is a serious website management tool used by publishers like The New Yorker and The Atlantic, as well as marketing organizations like Disney. Getting proficient at managing Free Toast Host isn’t a skill you can apply anywhere else.

My approach is to have one website that includes the blog, all the other basic information about our club, plus important meeting and member management functions. If people find their way to one of our blog posts, I want all the information about where and when we meet and why our club is so awesome to be just a click away.

There are a few other strategies to consider:

  • Create a blog using a free service such as WordPress.com (run by the people who created the software) or Blogger. Link back and forth between the blog and your “official” website, which might be Free Toast Host. If you have an established website you’re happy with and feel no particular pressure to up your game in online marketing and recruiting, this could be a reasonable compromise (though it pains me to say so).
  • Create posts on LinkedIn or Medium. Both of those service include what are essentially blogging tools. Link back to your official website from those posts. This may be a supplemental strategy you want to use to reach a different audience, even if you do have a WordPress blog. Ditto for a Facebook page or group.

Footnote: the custom software I have created is not available within the WordPress.com service. Lots of different websites run on the open source software available through WordPress.org, but WordPress.com is a free blog hosting service operated by the creators of the software, and it only supports a subset of all the plugins and themes (designs) available from the open source community.

Although my software is not available on WordPress.com, I have come up with something similar to their free website offer, specifically for Toastmasters clubs, through this WordPress for Toastmasters website. (I am asking for advertising and donations to support the project, but so far the costs are low enough that I can support this out-of-pocket). I also make the underlying software available for free to run on other hosting services that support WordPress.

If you already have a WordPress.com website, it’s possible to export content from there and import it into a WordPress for Toastmasters website.

Further reading:

Your Toastmasters Club Website: Show Some Personality!

Why WordPress Is Ideal For Toastmasters (With Some Tweaks)

http://www.clubawesome.org/2013/04/video-tactics-for-toastmasters/

 

BuddyPress for Toastmasters: A Social Network for Your Club Website

The WordPress for Toastmasters software now integrates with BuddyPress, the social networking offshoot of WordPress. This is an optional WordPress for Toastmasters feature your club can use, or not, depending on whether it makes sense for you.

If you activate BuddyPress on your club website, your member profiles can be social profiles, and activities like signing up to give a speech can be posted to a Facebook-like social feed where they can be commented on.

Here is an example of what a profile page looks like in this scenario:

A BuddyPress profile, displaying information from participation in Toastmasters.
A BuddyPress profile, displaying information from participation in Toastmasters.

The site-wide activity feed then looks like this.

A BuddyPress activity feed, showing meeting role signup activity and comments on those items.
A BuddyPress activity feed, showing meeting role signup activity and comments on those items.

This integration is supported in the latest open source release of RSVPMaker for Toastmasters, which is the core component of the WordPress for Toastmasters software. If you are taking advantage of the club website hosting at wp4toastmasters.com and toastmost.org, BuddyPress is not turned on by default but site administrators can activate it on the Plugins tab of the administrative user interface.

If you take advantage of this feature, you may want to turn off email updates for functions such as meeting role signups. The Toastmasters club officer who contacted me asking about using BuddyPress as part of a club website said his members were interested in reducing the amount of email they received from their club. BuddyPress lets members set their own preferences for email notifications. At work, many of us are using team chat tools like Slack and Glip or social collaboration tools like Yammer and Chatter. I wrote a book called Social Collaboration for Dummies and currently collaborate with Glip parent company RingCentral, so I know these technologies well.

I actually looked at BuddyPress several years ago, when working on an early version of the software that became RSVPMaker for Toastmasters. I thought it would be cool to add a social dimension to our club website, but at the time I thought it would be too difficult to implement and integrate. Now I’m happy to have figured out how to make it happen.

Adding BuddyPress to your club website could be a good alternative to using something like a Facebook group for private collaboration among your members, and it would have the advantage of being integrated with the same site your club uses for other purposes. Giving people an additional reason to come to the website could also drive up the usage of other features, such as self-service signup for meeting roles.

On the other hand, if your club is already actively using a Facebook group, and it’s working for you, you may decide adding BuddyPress would be an unnecessary complication. As with the whole WordPress for Toastmasters solution, I suggest having a group of officers test it first to decide if it’s right for your club.

On wp4toastmasters.com and toastmost.org sites, BuddyPress is on the list of optional plugins site administrators can activate.
On wp4toastmasters.com and toastmost.org sites, BuddyPress is on the list of optional plugins site administrators can activate.

A few notes on how BuddyPress meshes with the WordPress for Toastmasters software:

  • By default, BuddyPress displays a member listing at your site’s /members/ page — the same location where I normally suggest placing the member listing generated by my Toastmasters plugin. You can change the BuddyPress settings so that content will be output on a different page. For example, on the demo site I made the BuddyPress member listing demo.wp4toastmasters.com/buddypress/ so the default RSVPMaker for Toastmasters member directory can still be found at demo.wp4toastmasters.com/members/.
  • Information drawn from the Toastmasters member profiles, including officer status and contact information, will be automatically added to the heading of a member’s BuddyPress profile.
  • Consider turning off email-sending functions on the Toastmasters settings page.
  • The social activity stream in BuddyPress can be an upgrade to the relatively primitive profile page status message in my Toastmasters software, which was intended for purposes like letting other members know you’re going to be out of town for a few weeks.
  • The WP User Avatar I recommend (and have active by default on on wp4toastmasters.com / toastmost.org sites) becomes redundant, as BuddyPress has its own method for adding profile photos.
  • If the BuddyPress integration doesn’t work quite the way you said it would, let me know what changes you would like to see. This is just the initial release and I expect many suggestions for improvement if people start using it.

RSVPMaker Event Management for Toastmasters

WordPress for Toastmasters incorporates a series of WordPress extensions, of which one of the most important is RSVPMaker. RSVPMaker is a general-purpose event management plugin for WordPress, and it’s available to you for scheduling other types of events besides regular Toastmasters meetings — including events you charge for such as a conference or a Speechcraft workshop.

As this video shows, the latest updates to RSVPMaker make it easier to set up your event registration form and add the PayPal integration required for payment processing. If you would like to learn more, I am doing a webinar on RSVPMaker Wednesday Feb. 24, 2016 at 7 pm EST.

Video: Planning and Tracking Time on Your Meeting Agenda

Some of the latest updates to the software make it possible to plan the time required for different activities on your agenda and set a limit on the amount of time available for speech projects.

These features are optional. The choice of including times on your printable agenda is a setting you change on the administrator’s dashboard. When you turn it on, and additional Agenda Timing option appears on the menus. The Agenda Timing screen lets you change the time allowances for the whole agenda, and see how the time allocations add up, compared to the length of your meeting.

This is all new enough that you may want to consider it “beta” or experimental. Give me your feedback if you would like to see changes in how this works.