Configuring Automated Role Reminder Emails

Here is how you can set the software to send reminder emails like this —

Example of a reminder to the General Evaluator

— based on a message template that looks like this.

Reminder email templates

I covered the setup for this in a recent online meeting “office hours” session (replay below), and am sharing some additional documentation after the video.

 

The first step for setting this up is to turn the feature on in the Toastmasters settings screen. You can set up to two different reminder intervals, such as 2 days before and 2 hours before in the example below.

Turning on the automated reminder feature.

The setup for the reminder email templates is handled through the Notification Templates screen in RSVPMaker (the part of the software that handles event scheduling and registration). To make it easier for Toastmasters to find their way to this screen and others tucked away in different menus, I’ve provided a links from the Club Website Administration widget on the main dashboard.

Reminder templates link on the dashboard.

There are several default message templates you can customize.

Role Reminder – generic message template that is used if no more specific one has been supplied for the specific meeting role. Simply reminds the member of what they committed to doing on a given date, prompting them to let someone know if they will not be able to fulfill that duty.

Toastmaster of the Day – sends the TOD a version of the agenda that shows assigned and unassigned roles with contact info for the members who have taken a role. At the end, it lists the members who have not been assigned a role with their contact information. The idea is to give the TOD a complete kit of info for confirming roles and recruiting people to fill open roles.

Speaker – reminds the speaker to provide a speech introduction and specify the speech project, if that info has not already been entered into the website.

Evaluator – lists the speakers, the other evaluators, and the general evaluator with contact info.

General Evaluator – same as above. Intended to help the general evaluator clarify which speakers are assigned to which evaluators and organize their portion of the meeting.

Norole – The message sent to everyone without an assignment, including the agenda and a link to the agenda page on the website where they can sign up to fill an open role. (This is only sent if specified on the Toastmasters settings screen).

You can customize all of these message templates and add additional ones for other roles off the standard list used by the software —

‘Ah Counter’,
‘Body Language Monitor’,
‘Grammarian’,
‘Humorist’,
‘Topics Master’,
‘Table Topics’,
‘Timer’,
‘Vote Counter’

— or custom roles for your club.

For example, the Online Presenters Toastmasters club I started has a reminder template for the Timer role with tips about how to perform it in a video conference environment.

The template codes or “shortcodes” for adding the date to the subject line or importing the meeting agenda are listed at the bottom of the Notification Templates page. There is also a link you can click to get a preview based on signups for an upcoming meeting.

The default templates are necessarily generic, but there is nothing to stop you from adding club-specific information like telling speakers who need to cancel that they should call your VP of Education, rather than just posting an update on the website.

I encourage you to make it serve your needs. As always, give me feedback with your ideas for making it better.

 

New: How to Request a Written Evaluation

Requesting a written evaluation

The evaluations tool in WordPress for Toastmasters has been enhanced to allow you to request an evaluation for a speech or competent leader project through the website.

This tool is specifically meant for online clubs, where members are not in the same location to exchange their books. Most online Toastmasters clubs handle this by emailing PDFs back and forth, but I find that awkward. Brick and mortar clubs might also find this handy as a way of getting people to get evaluated for their Competent Leader projects, even if they forgot to bring their book to the meeting. Besides, typing an evaluation is better for people like me with messy handwriting.

There are now four tabs across the top of the Evaluations screen: Give Evaluations, Request Evaluation, Evaluations Received, and Evaluations Given.

The Request Evaluations tab is populated with roles you have filled at recent meetings (according to the agenda), as well as other CL projects you might complete outside of a meeting such as editing a club newsletter. You choose the project, choose the person you want to email the request to, and optionally add a personal note. If you don’t choose a member to email the request to in the Send To field, the tool will still generate a link that you can share by Facebook message or some other means.

The online forms include the same prompts as you would find in your manuals, including many of the new Pathways projects. If you spot errors or inconsistencies, let me know.

Update: here is how I introduced this at Online Presenters Toastmasters.

Role Recommendations Versus Role Assignments

There are two modes in which a meeting planner can parcel out meeting roles to members: assigning roles and recommending roles. This distinction holds with or without the “random” assignment suggestion feature.

Which you use will depend on the culture of your club and how open members are to being “voluntold” to take a role, rather than volunteering for it.

You’re in assignment mode when you select either Edit Signups or Assign from the menu. The Assign option is a shortcut to turning on random assignment suggestions. When you assign a role to a member, you are reserving it for that person. The member will get an email notification that looks something like this:

assignment email
Assignment Notification

Traditionally, in my clubs the VPE (which used to be me) would use the editing or assigning role to record roles that people had signed up for on a paper signup sheet. In other words, they really had volunteered, just not on the website. However, other clubs are more proactive in having the VPE assign roles to members rather than waiting for them to volunteer. This has some advantages in terms of keeping members moving through the program and encouraging them to rotate through a variety of different roles.

When you use the Recommendation mode, you are asking rather than telling. The idea is that you can send the member a notification that makes it easy for them to confirm they will take the role (one-click confirmation). You can also include a personal note, explaining why the role would be good for them. But if they do not respond, the role will not be held open for them.

The email notification looks like this:

recommendation email
Recommended role notification asks member to confirm

The user can click that accept link and be instantly added to the agenda.

confirmation message
Confirming acceptance of a role

How to Display Stoplight Colors on Your Agenda and Other Agenda Styling Options

The latest release of the WordPress for Toastmasters software includes an option to show green / yellow / red “stoplight” timing guidelines on the agenda. This was a request I received some time ago from a club that had been doing something like this with a Microsoft Word template. It took me a while to figure out how to pull it off.

The stoplight option is available to anyone who wants to turn it on. When logged in as administrator, go to Settings -> Toastmasters and you will see a place to turn stoplight display on or off. See also Manually Adding Stoplight Display with a Shortcode.

The other improvements are more targeted to club webmasters with knowledge of CSS stylesheet language, making it easier to change the fonts and alignment of elements within the agenda design.

Here is an example of stoplight colors on the agenda:

Stoplight colors on the agenda

Continue reading “How to Display Stoplight Colors on Your Agenda and Other Agenda Styling Options”

Agenda Setup and Fine Tuning (Video + Tips)

These are updated instructions for setting up your standard meeting agenda and tweaking it as necessary for individual meetings. In addition to trying to explain the software better, I have worked on simplifying the software itself to make the process easier!

If you don’t have time to watch the video, I’ve included some key points below. See also: Sample Contest Agendas: Evaluation and Humorous Speech.

One of the most important improvements is a new tool for planning the timing of your meetings. As you change your time estimate for each “stage directions” agenda note or each block of roles, the time estimates change automatically. You can also check to delete a role from the agenda if you will not have time for it in the context of a given meeting.

Adjusting the planned timing for a meeting.

Both the Agenda Setup and Agenda Timing tools can be used either to make changes for an individual meeting or to modify your standard meeting template and all the agendas based on that template.

Agenda Setup menu

With a time limit set for speeches, members who try to sign up for a speech project that would exceed that limit will get a warning that they need to ask the meeting organizer about adjusting the agenda or the club may not be able to accommodate them.

A warning that signing up for this project would exceed the total time allowed for speeches.

When you edit an agenda in the WordPress editor’s Visual mode, you will see the different components are now color-coded blue for roles, red for agenda notes, and purple for editable fields.

An agenda setup viewed in the WordPress editor’s Visual mode.

Click on any of these placeholders to get a popup editor window. Here, we’re modifying the speaker role and changing the time allowed for speeches.

Role editor popup.

The purple “editable” fields are agenda notes that instead of or in addition to any static content include the ability for you to add or edit a note on the front end of the website. This option becomes available in the same Edit Signups mode you would use to assign other members to roles.

This is useful for things like a Theme and/or Word of the Day field that changes from week to week. In the example below, it’s used to record the details about a guest speaker (or test speaker) for an evaluation contest.

A field that is editable on the front end of the website (Edit Signups mode)

Your agenda plan will rarely be perfect. Typically, the Toastmaster of the Day and club leaders will have to make last-minute adjustments no matter how carefully you plan. Still, you can maximize your odds of success by planning well.

 

Video: How to Reorder Speakers and Evaluators

The latest update to WordPress for Toastmasters makes it easier to rearrange the order in which we want speakers and evaluators to be listed on the agenda, which might not be the same as the order in which they signed up.

For example, my home club, Club Awesome, follows a tradition of allowing a member giving their Icebreaker to go first — so they can get it over with, if they’re nervous, and relax for the rest of the meeting. Or you might want to accommodate a speaker who needs to arrive late or leave early.

Also, several clubs have requested the ability to have the agenda display which speakers are matched with which evaluators. To make that work, we want to be able to rearrange the order so we can match speakers and evaluators appropriately (for example, to have a member’s mentor be the one who evaluates their icebreaker).

The video shows how you can now drag-and-drop to reorder roles. Continue reading “Video: How to Reorder Speakers and Evaluators”

Tracking, Updating Member Speech and Project History

The latest update to the WordPress for Toastmasters software includes several improvements to the system for tracking member activity, including more (still preliminary) support for the Pathways program.

The Toastmasters menu on the WordPress dashboard shows different options to the average member than to the administrator and club officers. The site administrator also has the option of deciding whether members should be able to see all the reports or only their own data (go to Settings -> Toastmasters and open the tab labeled Security).

At a minimum, every member has access to the My Progress screen with tabs labeled Basic Program (showing progress in the Competent Communicator and Competent Leader manuals), Speeches (listed chronologically and by manual), Advanced Awards, and Pathways. The Pathways screen is described in more detail below.

If the club allows members to update and edit their own data, tabs labeled Edit and Add Member Speech will also be displayed.

The Progress Reports screen is organized into the same list of tabs, but with the option to view reports and enter data for any member in the club.

Update History: One potentially disruptive change, for some club leaders, is the renaming of what used to be called the “Reconcile” screen on the administrator’s dashboard to “Update History.” If you are trying to keep accurate records of member speeches and roles completed, reconciling the agenda after the meeting is an important step to make sure the right people get credit for their participation. Letting the system gather most of that information from the agenda saves you time, but the reconciliation process cleans up discrepancies like last minute changes where one member was unable to attend and another stepped up to speak.

The reason for the name change is this screen can now be used to enter history from before you began using this software. For example, I was contacted by an officer of a club that has been meeting for several months and had records of roles filled at past meetings recorded on a spreadsheet. While it’s possible to record summary statistics like number of speeches given per manual, I wanted to make it easier for someone in that position to enter a series of meeting records without the need to create a bunch of back-dated events in the system.

How Precise Do You Want to Be?

As a club leader, it is up to you to decide how thorough you want to be about logging all data through the website software. It’s the software’s job to support your choices.

If you just want to use the website as a tool for organizing your meetings, you will get some basic tracking of member activity “for free” as part of that process, and the record will become more complete (particularly for new members) as time goes on). If that’s your attitude, you may not want to enter historical information at all.

Or you may want to add historical information at more of a summary level. The Edit tab in the Progress Reports screen will let a club leader enter summary statistics like how many speeches members have concluded in each manual. In other words, you can enter the number of CC speeches given, rather than entering the date, speech project, and title for each one. From that screen you can also make corrections to agenda records, such as adding the manual and project for a speech when that wasn’t done in advance.

Update History options

The argument for adding detailed historical information is that you and your members will need all the detailed information when applying for awards, meaning it could save you time and effort in the long run to have the data all in one place.

The Update History screen will allow you to enter records for past meetings on any date, using a form based on your meeting template.

If you just want to record speech projects, there is also the Add Member Speech tab on the Progress Reports screen.

New Pathways Tab

WordPress for Toastmasters has been phasing in some preliminary support for Pathways, the new Toastmasters educational program just starting to roll out to a handful of districts. I’ve been getting some exposure to it through Online Presenters Toastmasters, an online club I founded in which some of our members are also members of a club in a Pathways district.

WordPress for Toastmasters now includes Pathways projects on the signup form. The new web-based evaluation forms (introduced largely for the convenience of online clubs) also cover Pathways projects.

There is now a Pathways tab on the Progress reports screen that displays a summary of the progress of each member participating in Pathways. It shows a count of speeches completed in each level of the path selected by that member.

Overview of Member Progress in Pathways

When viewing the records for a specific member, you will see the listing of speeches the member has completed within that path. There is also a space for adding notes on other activities, such as completing self-assessments, that are part of the Pathways program.

Pathways record for an individual member.

 

Toastmasters International is providing more of its own online tools as part of the Pathways program, and it is not my intent to compete with them. The idea is to provide easier access to the information you gather in the natural course of business when you use WordPress for Toastmasters to organize your meeting agendas.

Other Enhancements

Following a recent overhaul of the way WordPress for Toastmasters tracks member data, club websites can now share member data with other clubs using the same software. This is automatic for clubs that host their sites on toastmost.org (a free service of the WordPress for Toastmasters project) because they share a common user/member database. In the coming weeks, I will introduce a service allowing clubs that run the software on independent websites to sync their data.

Tools for editing all this progress report data have also been updated for what you should find to be a smoother user experience. Feedback on how to improve it further is always welcome.

Adding Custom CSS Through the WordPress Customize Utility

This tip is aimed at club webmasters who already have some skill with web design or have an ambition to learn. The club websites hosted at toastmost.org are meant to be usable by Toastmasters without previous web technology or design skills, but I appreciate that others come to the experience knowing HTML (the language for structuring web pages) and CSS (the language for specifying fonts, font sizes, font colors, and other design parameters).

Part of the WordPress for Toastmasters solution is a theme called Lectern that, in addition to supporting a standard Toastmasters approved logo banner, specifies the fonts and general layout of the website. It has the advantage of adhering closely to WordPress standards, including the flexibility to resize pages when viewed on a mobile device.

WordPress includes a utility called the Customizer (look for the Customize link on the black bar at the top of the screen when you’re logged in as the administrator) that allows you to change basic layout parameters such as the background colors. There is also a utility that allows you to add some custom CSS that will override the defaults set in the theme.

Here is an example of a snippet of code added to change the styling of the club name, as displayed in the website banner.

Adding custom CSS

Making this work understands some understanding of how CSS works, but you can find a million tutorials on the web if this is something you want to learn. In the example above, I’m changing the font-family specification for h1 (the top level headline) within the section (div) of the page with the ID #toastmastersheader.

You can view the default CSS for the current release of Lectern here:

https://toastmost.org/wp-content/themes/lectern/style.css

This entire project is open source, and I would welcome contributions from web developers and designers who would like to collaborate on improving it. Meanwhile, the Customize utility gives you a lot of freedom to tweak the appearance of a site to your own taste.

 

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?