How to Track Member Progress With WordPress for Toastmasters (Updated)

WordPress for Toastmasters seeks to provide club leaders with tools both to organize meeting agendas and to track member progress based on participation history. You can gather a lot of data passively — speech and role signups flow automatically into the reporting system — but the data will be higher quality and more useful if you “reconcile” your records after each meeting to account for no-shows and members who stepped up at the last minute.

On the WordPress Dashboard, the key reports show up under

  • Toastmasters -> Progress Reports
    and
  • Toastmasters ->My Progress
Progress Reports screen

The My Progress screen is where members can see all their own records. That’s the one you want everyone to know is available.

The Progress Reports screen is more for club leaders, although by default members can also get a look at how they compare with other members.

The initial Progress Reports screen display is a 6-month snapshot of member activity within your club. The idea is to provide at-a-glance answers to two questions: are members speaking (and making progress in the educational program) and are members contributing to the health of the club by fulfilling other roles.

If you see someone who has a zero next to their name for Speaking roles, you may want to give them a nudge or reminder. If someone is giving lots of speeches but not filling any of the supporting roles, you may need to talk with them about contributing in other ways. As a VP of Education, I would prefer to see members filling supporting roles about twice as often as they speak — but only as a general rule. A good VPE also understands each member’s goals and situation, for example supporting a member who is pushing to achieve DTM or prepare for a professional event and wants to speak more or the member whose personal situation currently makes it difficult for them to participate.

Additional Views

You can switch from the 6-month overview to a number of additional views:

  • Remove the 6-month filter and display member data for all dates.
  • Display member data for all dates and all clubs that use the same software (see below).
  • Switch to the My Progress screen to see all of your own records.
  • Use the drop-down list at the top of the screen to pick any other individual member and view their records in more detail.
  • Both My Progress and Progress Report (with an individual member selected) display a list of the member’s speeches, chronologically and by manual, on the Speeches tab.
  • Use the other tabs across the top of the screen to view data for the Traditional Program (Competent Communicator/Competent Leader), Advanced Manuals, and Pathways. There are also tabs for editing records and adding a speech (for example, a speech given as a guest of another club).

Website administrators can restrict access to some of these screens if, for example, they do not want members to be able to edit their own data.

Not a Substitute for Base Camp

These reports are not intended to compete with Base Camp, the educational dashboard provided as part of the Pathways program. Maintaining the official records of member progress through the completion of manuals and Pathways levels will still require logging into toastmasters.org. However, I hope you will find them useful for tracking activity that doesn’t show up in Base Camp on for tracking down speech and activity information that can (a) help you keep the official records up to date and (b) get an overview of member participation.

The “Update History” Screen

Do your meetings always go as planned? Mine don’t. So for accurate record keeping, someone needs to go back and fix the changes where the speaker who was supposed to speak didn’t show up and someone else stepped up at the last minute. Like reconciling your checkbook, this process helps account for omissions and mistakes.

You do this from the Update History screen under Toastmasters Administration. In addition to correcting role signup records, you can (if desired) record attendance and recognitions like Best Speaker. Your user account must be set to the Manager or Administrator security level to access this screen.

Update History
  1. Pick any past date to record records for that meeting.
  2. Record your changes.
  3. Scroll down to the bottom and record your changes.

It’s also possible to generate records for any other date, based on a template rather than a specific meeting record. But for the most part you’ll work from a past meeting record.

Sharing Member Data Between Club Websites

If a member belongs to multiple clubs that host their websites at toastmost.org, the reports can display data from participation across these clubs.

It’s also possible for independently hosted websites to synchronize their data. For example, I can log into the website of either my home club (www.clubawesome.org) or the online club I led to charter (op.toastmost.org) and see all my activity from both clubs, plus one other where I served as a club coach. This feature is not turned on by default but can be activated from the Settings -> Toastmasters screen.

Turning on the data syncronization feature

Data is first synced with a repository hosted at wp4toastmasters.com, which also acts as a backup for your records. If you prefer to keep your data contained within your club website, leave this turned off.

Live Demo

For a live demo of the Progress Reports, log into the demo site at demo.toastmost.org using the credentials:

User: member
Password: member

This link will take you there https://demo.toastmost.org/wp-admin/admin.php?page=toastmasters_reports

New: Notification for Contributed Blog Posts

If you would like to encourage members to post to the club website blog, the best way to start them out is to promote them to the Contributor security level. This allows them to submit blog posts for review by an editor or administrator, who can then publish them. See: Understanding User Access Levels in WordPress for Toastmasters.

You might expect that WordPress would send me editors and administrators a notification whenever one of these posts is submitted, but it turns out that’s not built into the base WordPress system. As of the July 22 update, it is built into the WordPress for Toastmasters software (specifically, the RSVPMaker for Toastmasters plugin).

On the Settings page for Toastmasters options, there is now a field where you can enter the email addresses of one or more contacts.

Setup for Contributor Notifications

Each of those email addresses will get a copy of a basic notification like this, pointing to the page where you can view and edit the pending post. You can also reply to this message with questions for the author.

Understanding User Access Levels in WordPress for Toastmasters

WordPress for Toastmasters takes advantage of the standard WordPress user security levels, with a few tweaks. The creator of a club website becomes its Administrator, with broad powers over the design and content of the site, and new members are typically granted Subscriber-level accounts, which allow them to sign up for meeting roles and edit their own profiles.

This post focuses on the levels in-between, order of increasing responsibility and capability for adding and editing website content. Club webmasters may want to consider granting elevated access to club members, particularly given that Pathways includes both projects for blogging and podcasting. You can make the club website available as a platform for them to create and promote their content, and potentially get some public relations / social media marketing value for your club in the prospect. I’m doing something similar as this year’s webmaster for Toastmasters District 47, where I’m inviting participation from active members of the district.

For the Pathways blogging project, I suggest encouraging members to create a few posts relevant to the mission of Toastmasters and your club (or area or division) or showcasing what we learn in Toastmasters by example. If you video record speeches, a member might build a blog around a speech the were particularly proud of — with the video and maybe a few stills from the speech embedded in the body of the post, plus some commentary on where the idea came from, how they practiced, and so on. PowerPoint slides and other resources can be made available for download.

Contest speech videos are a potential goldmine for showcasing Toastmasters talent and dramatizing what we learn in the program.

My recommendation is that members be offered the opportunity to create blog posts on the club website but shouldn’t feel obligated to do so. The Pathways blogging project asks that they create 8 posts and then give a speech about what they learned in the process. My advice would be to do a couple of Toastmasters-appropriate posts to the club website, and a few others to a personal blog (a free account on WordPress.com or Blogger/Blogspot) or a professional forum (for example, with the LinkedIn blog/article tool). Many small businesses (and some larger ones) run their websites on WordPress, so blogging to promote the business could be productive as a way of attracting people to your business website.

I have much more to say about what to post and why, but first let me get back to my topic of security and access levels. In general, it’s good advice not to give users more privileges than they require to do their work. And the more access you grant, the more important it is to drive home the message about being careful with passwords and web security because a hacked account could do more damage.

The next step up from Subscriber is …

Contributor: An Author on Training Wheels

Continue reading “Understanding User Access Levels in WordPress for Toastmasters”

Web & Social Tip: Balance Your Use of Images Versus Text and Links

This is going to be one of those “pet peeve” posts — sorry — but I have burning urge to share observations about something that drives me crazy: people using images and PDFs to do jobs that text, links and interactive web or social content could do better.

I see this issue a lot with a volunteer organization I’m working with on digital strategy this year (Toastmasters District 47) where people often put a lot of effort into creating flyers (PDFs) or “poster images” for promoting an event or item of news on Facebook or Twitter but neglect to include important details in the body of those social posts. They seem to forget that people often want to copy and paste text like the address of an event location or click on a link or email address, which they generally can’t do with an image in a social post.

The examples of this pattern I’m thinking of where this pattern is most counter productive come from the world of business, not volunteerism — so the volunteers have nothing to be embarrassed about. I’m just encouraging them to do better.

I’m going to pick on a business, not the volunteers, for my example of what not to do. The post below is not at all the worst example that I’ve seen. I don’t know this business, and I don’t have anything against them or their marketing team. The only point I want to make with the image below is that it contains what looks like it could be a button. I’ve seen other examples where the “button” has rounded corners that makes it look even more button-like. The first time I saw this in a tweet, I thought “Oh, cool, someone has figured out how to make Twitter posts more interactive.”

No alt text provided for this image

The catch is the button is not really button; it’s just a picture of the button. If you try to click on it, Twitter shows you an enlarged version of the picture including the picture of a button. It doesn’t actually take you to a registration form, as you might expect.

Continue reading “Web & Social Tip: Balance Your Use of Images Versus Text and Links”

Adding Another Club Website Administrator. Also, Toastmost.org Requests & Help

With the start of the new Toastmasters officer term, many clubs may be adding or changing roles related to administration of the website. Continuity is important, but this may also be an opportunity to give your club website a face lift or add compelling content that tells visitors why they should invest in learning about Toastmasters — and your club in particular.

Recommendation #1: Your Club Should Have More Than One Website Administrator

Toastmasters leaders come and go. Even if you personally have made a long-term commitment to the club, there could come a day when you are unable to keep participating because of illness, or a job move, or who knows what? Or maybe you are the club leader who has delegated most responsibilities for managing the club website to someone else — perhaps someone with more “techie” skills than you give yourself credit for — and one day that person goes missing.

You don’t want to find yourself “locked out” of your own website, which is showing outdated information (say, because your meeting location has changed), and you can’t fix it.

So name at least one additional administrator, someone who is reasonably comfortable futzing with web software, even if your primary admin continues to do most of the work. You can change user roles on the Toastmasters screen under Settings, or from the Users page on the administrative dashboard.

You may also want to assign officers and other trusted club members to elevated security roles. Your choices, with increasingly broad rights are:

  • Subscriber – the default security role. Can sign up for roles and edit their own user/member profile.
  • Contributor – Can contribute blog posts and submit them for approval by an Editor or Administrator.
  • Author – Can create and publish blog posts without prior approval by an Editor.
  • Editor – Can edit any of the site content, including blog posts, pages, and event posts.
  • Manager – Can edit content and can also add or edit user/member records. (Not a standard WordPress security role — added for use by an officer such as the VP of Membership who needs to be able to add user accounts).
  • Administrator – Can change configuration settings, enable plugins, and change the site design (color choices, banners, etc). On a stand-alone website, the Administrator can also install plugins and themes. On a multisite network such as toastmost.org, only the network administrator can install additional software.
  • Network Administrator – On a multisite network such as toastmost.org, this super-administrator has administrative rights to all the individual club websites and can make changes that affect all websites.

As an Administrator, you can appoint a second administrator, and you can also appoint users to any of the roles below that level.

New Way to Submit Requests and Questions on Toastmost.org

Club website administrators should be able to operate fairly autonomously, for the most part. However, there are a few functions that require help from a network administrator. In addition to the WordPress functions you cannot access, tasks such as creating an email discussion list require access to server operating system utilities outside of WordPress.

Requests and Questions

In most cases, a network administrator can fulfill these requests within a day or two. I’m introducing two new tools to make it easier for you to submit these requests and for me and my backup admins to follow up on them.

  • Requests and Questions Form – Use to request setup of email lists and email forwarding addresses, or submit any other request or question for the network administrators. This form appears on the main Dashboard screen and also as a submenu under TM Administration. The version you get to from the menu also shows a history of all your requests and the responses to them.
  • Plugin Search – Plugins are optional software modules for specific functions. Plugins for many common purposes are pre-installed and just waiting for you to turn them on. Thousands of others are freely available from WordPress.org, and this new search screen (which you will find as a submenu under Plugins) lets you research them and request that additional plugins be installed.

One caution about plugins: don’t go crazy installing dozens of plugins on your website. Having too many active can slow down your website. They may even interfere with each other. Used judiciously, they can add useful functions to your website.

For example, searching on “poll” would allow you to locate multiple plugins for adding an interactive poll to a blog post or page. Before requesting additional plugins, see if an existing plugin for that function is already available. In fact, there are already two polling plugins available for your use. However, if another one looks like it fits your requirements better, go ahead and ask for it.

Requests for plugins will be reviewed based on factors like ratings and how frequently the software is updated. Plugins may also be removed form toastmost.org from time to time, for example if they have known security bugs or haven’t been updated in a long time.

In general, requests for mailing lists and forwarding addresses are more straightforward and will be processed on a routine basis. Just keep in mind that forwarding addresses must be unique. In other words, vpe@toastmost.org will not work but myclub-vpe@toastmost.org or vpe2445@toastmost.org can be set to forward to whatever address or list of addresses you specify.