Why WordPress Is Ideal For Toastmasters (With Some Tweaks)

The WordPress for Toastmasters Project combines all that is good about WordPress with some added features specific to organizing Toastmasters clubs and meetings. But what’s so great about WordPress? Its wonderfulness seems so obvious to me that I sometimes forget to explain that part.

So, to backtrack, let me start by quoting from the current (as of this posting) home page at WordPress.org:

WordPress is web software you can use to create a beautiful website or blog. We like to say that WordPress is both free and priceless at the same time.

The core software is built by hundreds of community volunteers, and when you’re ready for more there are thousands of plugins and themes available to transform your site into almost anything you can imagine. Over 60 million people have chosen WordPress to power the place on the web they call “home” — we’d love you to join the family.

As a webmaster, the advantage is that you’re not starting from scratch — you get to stand on the shoulders of giants. Because people all over the world use, test, and enhance the software, its capabilities get better every day. When bugs crop up, which does happen, they get dealt with swiftly. As long as you keep the software up to date (and I do), the experience of running a WordPress website is almost always a good one. When WordPress-based sites get hacked, it’s usually because they are out of date.

Meanwhile, it’s increasingly common for professional publications like The New Yorker as well as general business websites to take advantage of the WordPress platform as an alternative to more proprietary web content management systems. By customizing the themes (sets of templates) used by WordPress sites, it’s possible to give your website a unique look. It’s even easier to start with one of the free themes and add a few customizations, as I’ve done with the Toastmasters Child Themes for WordPress available her (which add Toastmasters branding and the disclaimers required by Toastmasters International).

WordPress is most famous as a blogging platform, and some people say, “But I don’t want a blog, I just want a website.” Don’t let that word “blog” confuse you, I’m not trying to turn you into the next Matt Drudge or Arianna Huffington by recommending a blogging tool. A blog is just a part of your website where you publish newsy content, so it might be where you announce the winners of your Club Contest or celebrate their victory at an Area Contest. Maybe you’ve gotten in the habit of making those announcements on Facebook, which is great. But I suggest using those opportunities to post a link to your website, where potential new members will find all the other great info you’ve posted about where you meet and how to join. Social media integration is another of WordPress’s strengths.

The WordPress editor is essentially a word processor for creating web content. Right next to the formatting controls for marking text bold or italic is one for adding a link. Another button lets you upload, size, and insert photos or whole galleries of photos. Embedding a YouTube video is similarly easy.

Now, I have learned over the years that “easy” is a relative term. What’s easy for me may not be easy for you, or at least not intuitively obvious. So let me just say that it’s easy to learn, if you make a little effort. Certainly, you do not need to be a techie to use WordPress.

The payoff of using software that makes your website easy to update, so that you update it more frequently, is that you will be making your website easier for potential new members to find. That’s because when you post new content to your website frequently, Google and other search engines will index it more frequently and thoroughly.

One of the great advantages of a WordPress website is search engine optimization. While there are lots of advanced techniques for maximizing SEO, any content posted to a WordPress site tends to do well — particularly if it’s unique and interesting, of course — because the search engines index thousands of WordPress websites every day and understand how they are structured.

The same basic editor that you use to create and update blog posts will also let you update the pages of your website.

With extensions like my RSVPMaker plugin, the editor will also let you post and edit events (displayed in order of event rather than most recent first like a blog). You might use that to post an open house event, or information about a training session or district conference, or example.

The editor I provide for setting up Toastmasters meeting agendas and signup sheets is a little different, but I’ve tried to make it similarly easy to use. Originally created for my home club, Club Awesome Toastmasters in Coral Springs, Florida, this additional plugin is one I’m just now working to generalized so it can be used by other clubs.

At the same time, my enhancements build on a lot of things you get “for free” with the WordPress platform. I think that puts me in a better position than the developers of the FreeToastHost platform used by most Toastmasters clubs, which as far as I can tell is mostly custom, built on top of a Windows-based content management system that lacks the mass-market adoption of WordPress.

When I became my club’s VP of Education a couple of years ago, I inherited a FreeToastHost-based website and quickly became impatient with it. FreeToastHost may have gotten better since the last time I used it, but I can’t say for sure. I theoretically have access to a couple of websites on that platform, one for a club and one for a district, except that I have been unable to access my account.

The function that’s supposed to allow me to obtain a password — just leave the password blank, and an invitation will be emailed to you — appears to be broken. It’s been broken for about a month. That’s the kind of thing that never happens with a well-maintained WordPress site.

I’m looking to connect with other Toastmasters club leaders who would like to try using WordPress for Toastmasters for their own clubs. Contact me here if you’d like to be part of the beta test.

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