Suspending Free Toastmasters club website offer September 1

As of September 1, I’m planning to suspend the offer of new free club websites until I can identify a source of funding to make that part of the WordPress for Toastmasters project financially self-sustaining.

The existing club websites on toastmost.org will continue to be supported, and the free and open source software will remain available for those who want to add it to an independently hosted WordPress site  (see Hosting Your Own WordPress for Toastmasters Website).

Meanwhile, I am looking for help from anyone interested in helping me come up with a workable plan to raise the funds to allow the free websites offer to reopen, or who can contribute other ideas for a path forward. Maybe this could be someone’s High Performance Leadership project?

Offering free Toastmasters club websites was always an experiment, a way of demonstrating the value of the software and making it easier for club leaders who do not consider themselves techies to set up a site. I used the multisite configuration of WordPress, together with my own customizations, to allow club leaders to register sites at subdomains such as mysite.toastmost.org. My own Online Presenters club is op.toastmost.org.

However, so far I have had no luck finding an advertiser or sponsor to underwrite that part of the project. Hosting websites does cost money, and I see the cost beginning to grow beyond what I can subsidize out of my consulting business.

There is still time to set up a free club website, if you do it within the next couple of weeks — part of the reason of this post was to give fair warning — and I will continue to work to help those clubs that have set up shop on toastmost.org to be successful with the software. Some good testimonials from leaders who have made it work for their clubs might provide the momentum needed to take this project to the next stage.

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.

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”

Video: Technical Teardown of This Project (and Related WordPress Projects)

This video is from the South Florida WordPress Users Group meetup. Additional notes and code samples are at https://rsvpmaker.com/teardown/

Yes, Toastmasters friends, I realize I spent too much time with my back to the audience (or at least to the cameraman, my son, who was all the way over to one side of the room). But the audio is not bad for video shot on a smartphone.

 

Please Support the WordPress for Toastmasters Project

I am writing to ask for your help making the WordPress for Toastmasters project a long-term success, which is something I can’t do alone.

See the Support This Project page for suggestions on how to help by placing an advertisement, making a donation, or contributing professionally by making the software, design, and documentation/tutorials better.

Active sites on toastmost.org

Funding is starting to become an issue for toastmost.org, the site where I invite people to create a club website for free.

If your club has a toastmost.org website, it’s safe: I’m not going to kick anyone off of the service. However, if I am going to continue to allow more clubs to sign up for it, I do need to figure out how to make it financially self sustaining. If we could raise $2,000 by the end of the year, the project would be in good shape.

The toastmost.org site has the advantage of allowing people to take advantage of the software without becoming experts on how to set up and configure web hosting. Working with more clubs and people with varying degrees of tech savvy also forces me to work harder at making the software itself easier to use. (I think it’s getting there). The clubs that have set up their own independent websites benefit, too.

Nobody Asked Me To Do This

Nobody asked me to create this service, but I saw it as the only way to allow the software to reach beyond a limited audience of Toastmasters who are also techies. What I call WordPress for Toastmasters was originally a set of one-off hacks for my own home club, but I got enough interest from friends in Toastmasters that I decided to find ways to share it.

Like a dot-com entrepreneur, I figured the first challenge was to prove I could generate an audience for this approach to managing a club website. I would worry about the money later.

Later is coming. Servers cost money, and soon I’ll need a bigger server or multiple servers to support the application. There are other commercial services I would like to invest in that would allow these websites to perform better, even for people on the other side of the world, or for improving the delivery of notification emails like password resets and role signup reminders. Possibly a nonprofit foundation should be established to manage the money, but setting up a foundation costs money also.

Worst Case Scenario

Worst case, I might close toastmost.org to new signups and continue to support it for clubs with existing websites. The open source software would continue to be available to clubs with the budget to set up their own websites, and districts or other organizations who embrace this approach could potentially set up their own multi-club websites on the toastmost.org model.

In that case, toastmost.org would become a demonstration project that proved the value of running a club website on WordPress, with Toastmasters-specific enhancements. I don’t see that as a bad outcome, but it’s not the best I would hope for.

Best Case Scenario

In a perfect world, someone reading this or someone I’m introduced to by someone reading this would pay $2,000 to be the exclusive sponsor of all the toastmost.org websites (there is a spot for an ad in the sidebar of each site) for the next year. Or a few companies, individuals, or clubs, pay the equivalent in smaller donations or advertisements.

Alternatively, I make a profitable business connection through one of you that makes me so fabulously wealthy the cost of this project becomes insignificant.

There may be other better than best case scenarios that I’m not even imagining. Part of what I’m asking for is that you help me imagine ways for this project to live up to its potential.

Thanks,

David F. Carr, versatile and inventive writer, editor, and web consultant
Author, Social Collaboration for Dummies
President, Online Presenters Toastmasters and member, Club Awesome Toastmasters

See my work on Forbes, connect with me on TwitterLinkedIn, or Facebook
david@carrcommunications.com
(954) 757-5827 (rolls over to mobile if no answer)

WordPress for Toastmasters Meeting & Agenda Management Quick Overview

I created this 2-minute overview to illustrate a few key concepts as part of a presentation to a WordPress meetup, showing how WordPress can be extended as a meeting management platform with functions keyed to a user’s login for signing up for roles or (with the proper permissions) editing the agenda.

The video shows navigating through the events calendar, signing up to speak at a meeting, specifying the manual and project for your speech, and modifying the “stage directions” notes and roles displayed on the agenda.

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.

 

Sample Contest Agendas: Evaluation and Humorous Speech

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.”

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.

The evaluation contest form below, viewed in the WordPress editor’s Visual mode.

The idea here is that each of these contests would be the centerpiece of a separate meeting, and we’re estimating how much time will be required for each phase of the contest. For the evaluation contest, we need to provide for a guest speaker or “test speaker” whom the contestants will evaluate. Since that will be a person from outside of the club, we’re included an editable field where the details about that speaker can be filled in once that person is identified.

Evaluation Contest Form
The Evaluation Contest signups form in Edit Signups mode, with an editable field for entering details about the test speaker.

Evaluation Contest

Copy and paste (with the WordPress editor in text mode):

[agenda_note agenda_display="both" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="5"]Sgt. at Arms calls the meeting to the order.  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="12" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[toastmaster role="Chief Judge" count="1" agenda_note="" ]

[toastmaster role="Timer" count="1" agenda_note="" ]

[toastmaster role="Vote Counter" count="1" agenda_note="" ]

[toastmaster role="Videographer" count="1" agenda_note="" ]

[agenda_note agenda_display="both" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="Test Speaker Introduction" time_allowed="8"]For the evaluation contest, we invite a guest or test speaker to give a 5-7 minute speech for the contestants to evaluate.[/agenda_note]

[toastmaster role="Evaluation Contestant" count="8" agenda_note="" time_allowed="20" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[toastmaster role="Topics Master" count="1" agenda_note="" time_allowed="15" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[agenda_note agenda_display="both" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="10"]Awards ceremony[/agenda_note]

[agenda_note agenda_display="agenda" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="15"]We'll do self introductions at the end, as well as any announcements.[/agenda_note]

Humorous Speech Contest

Copy and paste (with the WordPress editor in text mode):

[agenda_note agenda_display="both" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="5"]Sgt. at Arms calls the meeting to the order.  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="12" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[toastmaster role="Chief Judge" count="1" agenda_note="" ]

[toastmaster role="Timer" count="1" agenda_note="" ]

[toastmaster role="Vote Counter" count="1" agenda_note="" ]

[toastmaster role="Videographer" count="1" agenda_note="" ]

[toastmaster role="Humorous Speech Contestant" count="10" agenda_note="" time_allowed="60" padding_time="0" indent="0"]

[agenda_note agenda_display="both" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="10"]Awards ceremony[/agenda_note]

[agenda_note agenda_display="agenda" strong="" italic="" size="" style="" alink="" editable="" time_allowed="15"]We'll do self introductions at the end, as well as any announcements.[/agenda_note]

How to Assign Time to Each Portion of Your Agenda

WordPress for Toastmasters now makes it a little easier to plan the timing of your meeting agenda on an administration screen where you can assign or adjust the time associated with any role on the agenda or any agenda note. You will see the times change as you make your updates.

Here is what that looks like for my home club, Club Awesome Toastmasters:

New Agenda Timing planner.

Continue reading “How to Assign Time to Each Portion of Your Agenda”

Guest Email List and Utilities for Tracking Guests and Former Members

The latest software updates were produced in response to a request to support having a separate email list for staying in touch with guests who are not yet members. You can also use it to keep tabs on former members you hope will return someday. This is part of the the integration with the Mailman mailing list utility. The Guests/Former Members tracking screen has also been updated to allow you to add those individuals to the list.

In addition, I’ve made it easier to manage one routine administrative task: approving or deleting messages that have been held for moderation.

The options below will appear on your Toastmasters settings screen if you are running an independent website. If you have one of the free toastmost.org accounts, I have to manually set it up for you (in which case I’d ask you to consider making a donation to the cause).

Guest email list option on the settings screen.

Simplifying Mailman

Mailman is an open source Linux utility that has been around for years. Once you have recorded your password, the WordPress software will log into Mailman on your behalf to perform routine functions like adding the email addresses of new members to your members email list. The link to the Mailman administration page, along with the password, are also displayed on the dashboard in the section only visible to site managers (officers) and administrators.

This kind of mailing list allows you to write to a single address and have your message distributed to everyone on the list. It includes some basic unsubscribe functionality, and you as the list administrator can also add and drop list members.

As an alternative, the RSVPMaker plugin included as part of WordPress for Toastmasters, supports integration with the MailChimp marketing email service. However, forwarding a message via the Mailman email list is a lot quicker and easier than setting up a MailChimp campaign.

Before distributing a message, Mailman checks to make sure the message was sent by either a member of the list, an administrator, or another email account that has been specifically whitelisted as an approved address. If not, the message will be held for “moderation,” meaning a list administrator has to approve it. This is helpful for preventing spam, but it does add a certain amount of hassle and gives you another password to remember.

The Mailman user interface for that task is not the most user friendly.

Mailman pending messages user interface.

Now, when you get the notification about one of these pending messages you can approve it from within the Mailman Mailing List screen in WordPress (under the Users menu, next to Guests/Former Members).

Where to find the Mailman screen.

This screen also allows you to view who is currently on each of the 3 supported lists (members, officers, guests) and to add or unsubscribe list members.

Under the Pending Messages section, you will see the email addresses of any unauthorized members who have written to the list, along with the subject line of the message or messages they sent. For each email, you can choose to Always Approve messages (whitelist), Approve Once (just this time), or Blacklist the message. If you approved the message, it will be transmitted. If you choose Blacklist, the message will be deleted and any further messages from that address will be blocked.

You can also click on the message to read its content before deciding, although currently that does require you to log into Mailman directly. Often, it’s pretty obvious from the subject line and the email address, for example if a member is writing from a different email address than the one on the list or if a district officer is trying to write to your club.

The Mailman Mailing Lists screen in WordPress

Adding Email from RSVPs and Guests/Former Members List

The Guests/Former Members screen automatically tracks information about people who used to be club members (and users of the website) but aren’t anymore. You can also manually add information about guests and former members who you want to stay in touch with. You now have the option of checking off emails from the Guests/Former members list that should be added to your guest email list in Mailman.

If you use RSVPMaker to register guests online, you can also pull in the email addresses people who have visited but not joined your club from those registrations. This is relevant to the online club I helped found, Online Presenters, where we have people register to get the link to the video conference.

Here is a quick video demo of how that works.

WordPress for Toastmasters Training for July 2017

Learn how to promote your club and fill your agenda with the help of WordPress for Toastmasters. This training is intended for club officers who are actively using or considering the WordPress option for their clubs.

I’ve scheduled three sessions aimed at officers settling into new roles or thinking about how digital tools might help them revitalize their clubs in the coming year. The schedule is meant to work for Toastmasters in a few different timezones.

Register for one of these three sessions.

There’s a “see in my timezone tool” on the web page for each event.