Distinguishing Between Agenda Signup, Assignment and Recommendation Modes

In addition to the default signup mode displayed to all members who log into the website to take a role on the agenda, there are a few different editing modes that can be used by meeting organizers. The new notification messages that appear above the menu are designed to distinguish between them more clearly — after a couple of members of my home club complained about being confused.

agenda notifications
Hey, make sure you know what you’re doing!
  • Edit Signups – the meeting organizer sees drop-down lists with the name of all members next to each role. Used to fill open roles and record changes. Great for recording assignments for volunteers who signed up by on a paper signup sheet or by giving instructions over the phone or by email.
  • Assign – Same as above, but with random assignments in the open roles.
  • Recommend – Also shows random assignments, but instead of being recorded immediately, members chosen for a role will receive an email message asking them to confirm they accept the assignment.

The “random” assignments are plugged into open roles. They aren’t entirely random because the choices are biased toward members who haven’t taken that particular role recently. But the most important thing to understand is that they are not actually recorded on the agenda. That’s what the text in red is supposed to clue you into.

Random assignment (unconfirmed)
Last attended: 2017-11-03 Last filled role: Jun 17 2016

In other words, this tool is supposed to help you fill your agenda, but I don’t want you to be confused about which roles have actually been filled.

You can either accept the suggestions or change them, but nothing will be recorded until you scroll to the bottom and click Save Changes. In Recommend mode, the role will not actually be reserved for that person. If the member wants to accept, they can do so with one click on the link in the email notification — provided that no one else has signed up for that role in the meantime.

There is also “Recommend instead of assign” checkbox that shows up in the Edit Signups / Assign modes, allowing you to mix the two modes. In other words, you can assign a list of volunteers to roles and also send role recommendation messages to a few other members. When you click the checkbox, a text entry box appears that allows you to add a message like, “Hey, looks like you haven’t spoken in 6 months – how about next week?”

Tell we what you find useful and how to make it more useful.

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.

Choose Your Own Adventure: New Multi-Meeting Planning Tool

Here is an upgrade I have been planning for some time: an easier way of booking meeting roles multiple weeks in advance, instead of one meeting at a time. This also makes it easier for you to plan your progress through the program so that you’re speaking on a regular basis (depending on how quickly you are trying to advance) while also doing your part to keep the club healthy and meetings well-organized.

Here’s an overview:

If you are a club leader, and your club relies on self-service meeting role signups as an important part of how you organize your agenda, getting members to do a better job of planning ahead can take some of the pressure off. You may still need to coach members not to be too greedy about grabbing speaking slots week after week (or being too timid about volunteering to speak). Occasionally, you may need to reassign members, or let them know you have changed the agenda for a special meeting that does not include the role they originally signed up for.

Overall, though, I expect this to be helpful to my clubs. As a VP of Education or a Mentor, you might consider sitting down with a club member you are coaching and advising them on what roles you would like to see them sign up for.

Formula for Making Recommendations

Over time, I hope to make the software smarter about the recommendations it makes. Here is how it works so far:

  • Looks up any current assignments for the member for each meeting.
  • Looks up unassigned roles for each meeting.
  • Shuffles the unassigned roles into a random order.
  • Before making a suggestion, considers whether the member is eligible to fill the role (for example, whether they have given three or more speeches before signing up to evaluate). Tries to avoid repeatedly assigning members to the same role.
  • Displays the currently assigned role or the suggestion as the default choice, along with all the other open roles for that meeting.

Try it and let me know what you think.

WordPress Club Website Free Trial Extended to 6 Months

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.

Register at toastmost.org.

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.

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 https://wp4toastmasters.com/?timer=1

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 https://op.toastmost.org/rsvpmaker/online-presenters-meeting-2017-11-6/?timer=1

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.

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.

 

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 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.

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