The latest software update includes a couple of tools club leaders have asked for to give them greater control over who can edit signups by other members and to prevent or discourage abuse of the self-service role signup tools. The use of these features is optional. You will find the setup for them on the Rules tab of Toastmasters Settings.
Restricting Access to the Edit Signups Feature
The first set of settings are related to who will be able to access the Edit Signups link on the agenda. By default, the system allows all members to access that function as needed. However, you can restrict it so only the site Administrator (or another member with an elevated security role such as Editor or Manager) has access to the Edit Signups function.
If you choose to limit access by security role, you may still want to permit access to the Edit Signups function for the Toastmaster of the Day if the TOD is responsible, or partly responsible, for organizing the agenda and ensuring roles are filled. Depending on how your club operates, you might also want to give the General Evaluator that ability. Since these are meeting-specific roles, access would only be granted for the specific meeting for which a member is serving in that role.
A Point System for Speeches Versus Other Participation
Large clubs or those with many ambitious speakers may occasionally experience issues with members monopolizing the available speaking slots. The points system allows you to monitor abuse of the self-signup feature or have the software prevent it.
Here’s how it works:
Each member starts with 4 points (you can change this)
Each speech signup “costs” 2 points (you can change this)
Members earn 1 point for every supporting role (every role other than speaker) they sign up for.
In other words, if you stick with the defaults, the idea is members should fill some other role roughly twice as often as they sign up to speak.
The least intrusive way to use this feature is for club leaders to periodically check the new Speaker Points Report and, perhaps, have a talk with anyone who looks like they’re abusing the system.
Here’s a glimpse at that report with a member’s negative score highlighted in red. This is one of the reports listed under the Reports Dashboard.
Next, you can specify that you would like to warn members when their point balance drops below zero but not actually prevent them from signing up to speak.
Here’s what that looks like:
Or you can prevent members from signing up for to speak as long as their point value is negative. In that case, the Take Role button just isn’t displayed for speaking roles.
In that case, a club leader such as the VP of Education who has the authority to Edit Signups can override this prohibition by putting the member on the schedule anyway. (To make this enforceable, you will want to ensure that regular members cannot access the Edit Signups feature.)
Other rules needed?
Do these options suggest other rules you would like to have the option of turning on?
The Pathways universe has expanded with a new Engaging Humor path centered on a series of humorous speaking projects. The Know Your Sense of Humor project also shows up as an elective for the other educational paths.
To keep pace, WordPress for Toastmasters now show the new path and projects on the signup form.
In addition, each of the new projects is now represented by an online evaluation form the covers the same questions and prompts as the PDF evaluation form. These are not meant to be a replacement for the official educational materials, but they can be handy as an alternative to filling out a paper evaluation.
The online evaluation forms were particularly intended for use by online clubs, where members are otherwise in a position of emailing PDFs back and forth, or printing and scanning evaluations. Personally, I also find them a good alternative to delivering feedback in my sloppy handwriting.
Thanks to Roger Fung, VP of Education for Online Presenters Toastmasters, for helping me track down the evaluation forms I was missing.
Here are a few resources posted for the benefit of attendees at a Toastmasters Leadership Institute presentation on Saturday, February 2. Since I’m posting this the night before, I’ll likely add to this with documents, links, answers to questions that come up during the session and possibly a video of the session itself.
WordPress for Toastmasters can now help you collect club dues, thanks to a new integration with the Stripe online payment service that’s part of the RSVPMaker events scheduling plugin. Better yet, Stripe is introducing discounted transaction fees for nonprofits, and my contact told me I could invite other Toastmasters clubs to participate in the beta program.
You can use the same mechanism to collect money for other purposes, such as fundraisers and events. The integration with Stripe online payments is a feature of the RSVPMaker plugin WordPress for Toastmasters uses for event scheduling. If you are hosting a workshop or conference for which attendees will pay a fee, RSVPMaker will record the registration and ask members to click the button to pay at the end of the process.
In the case of dues, members can also be asked to sign up for a “subscription” plan where their credit card will automatically be billed every 6 months. We’re piloting that at Online Presenters now. For new member dues payments you can put in a different price for each month of the year, reflecting how TI dues are prorated depending on when someone signs up.
You will need to provide the EIN tax ID for your club. In the case of Online Presenters, which does not have an EIN because of its international nature, I was able to provide the EIN for Toastmasters International (95-1300076), explaining we operate under that umbrella.
A very common scenario for Toastmasters meeting organizers is that you may need to adjust the number of speakers, time allowed for speeches, or both for a given meeting — for example, because a member is planning to give a 15 or 20-minute speech rather than one of the 5-7 minute speeches.
You can accomplish that, without having to restructure the whole agenda (or agenda template), through the same Edit Signups feature you use to record role assignments.
You can actually adjust the timing for any portion of the meeting this way; I’m just underlining the number of speeches and total time allowed for speeches as the most common need.
As you make changes in this mode, the time estimates change to give you an idea of whether you’re doing a good job of allocating time to each phase of your meeting appropriately to finish on time. For example, if the end time after adjustments shows up as 8:35 and your meeting is supposed to be over at 8:00, that’s a clue that you may need to tighten up your plan a little more.
Treated as a matter of “tweaking” the agenda, this function does not require the same editing rights as editing the underlying agenda or template.
Note: The tweak timing function shown here requires that your agenda documents have been updated using the “new” version of the agenda editor introduced in 2018, which in turn is based on the new WordPress editor.
Changing the Standard Timing on Your Agenda (Changing the Template)
If you are the website administrator or an officer or other member who has been granted editing rights on the website, you can make deeper changes such as reordering the roles as they will be displayed on the signup form and the printable agenda.
The animation above shows a scenario where we edit the Agenda Role block for speaker, changing the number of speakers and timing, and also insert a new agenda note, setting the time requirement for a 5-minute break to 5 minutes.
To rearrange blocks of content, including Agenda Role and Agenda Note blocks, click on the one you want to move and use the up-and-down arrows that appear to the left to move that item up or down relative to other content. To insert a block of content, click the + button that appears at the top of the page, as well as between any two existing blocks of content when you hover the mouse over the border between them.
There is a difference between editing an individual event post and editing the event template, which is a model for your individual events. I compare it to the difference between the cookie and the cookie cutter. The cookie cutter (the template) is designed to stamp out identical cookies. Cookies that start out identical can then be decorated differently. Perhaps you decide to turn some of your horse-shaped cookies into unicorns. If you decide you want them to all be unicorns, you can go back and change the template.
Because these are digital objects, we don’t have to worry about how the cookie crumbles. Once we’ve updated our template, we can not only stamp out new events based on the template but update the events we created previously to match the new template.
If you make changes to this week’s agenda, your changes will only affect this week’s agenda. They won’t automatically alter the setup for future weeks. Setting the model for future events is the job of the Event Template. Once you update the template, you can add or update the event posts for future dates. (Stamping out new cookies and reshaping existing cookies).
However, if you decide the changes you made to this week’s agenda ought to be permanent, the new Update Template Based on Event option, which appears on the black admin bar at the top of the screen, allows you to work backwards from the event to the template. Once you confirm this command, the content of the template is overwritten to match the event you have edited to perfection. From there, you can update some or all of the other events in the series — click “Check All” to select all of them, uncheck any that you don’t want to overwrite, then submit your changes.
Note that using the Tweak Timing option under edit signups does exactly the same thing as using the editor to change the Count and Time Allowed parameters for an Agenda Role block. The Tweak Timing function actually makes it easier to see how your changes affect the overall timing plan for your meeting. So one tactic might be to play with fine tuning the timing for individual meetings, then apply them to the template (and your other meeting events) once you’ve got it right.
Does your club want or need its own website domain? That is something you do not get with the free club website hosting offered through WordPress for Toastmasters, but you do have the option of using the exact same software with a web hosting account you set up at your own domain.
If your Toastmasters club operates on a tight budget, free is probably the right price for you. On the other hand, if you have a little money to spend, I’m developing a more affordable option for those who want their own domain. Click to jump ahead to the details or read on for some background.
For those not familiar with the jargon, google.com, facebook.com, and wp4toastmasters.com are all domains.
On the other hand, op.toastmost.org and buddies.toastmost.org are club websites hosted at subdomains of the toastmost.org domain. The main toastmost.org website is where you go to sign up for a free club website. I seek ads and sponsorships to cover the cost of running this service. As I write this, all toastmost.org websites are running sponsor ads for Geeks on Tour, the technology tutorials for travelers website run by my friends Chris and Jim Guld.
Running a website at your own domain costs money — some combination of the cost of registering the domain (securing the rights to use myclubname.com) and hosting the website (paying someone to operate the computer servers and network services where the content of your website is stored), plus technical support. The domain registration expense is relatively minor, something like $10-$15 per year. Unless you have a company or university sponsor providing your hosting, you might expect to pay $100 or more per year for a web hosting account for capable of running the WordPress for Toastmasters software.
There are two advantages to a website hosted at your own domain:
Branding: Your clubsite looks a little more “professional” with its own domain, and the web address is easier to print on a business card or a flyer. Personally, I think having the right content on your website and telling the story of what makes your club special is more important. Most people will come to your website by clicking on a link from Google or Facebook or TI’s Find a Club service, rather than typing in the address. Still, if we were talking about a business rather than a Toastmasters club, I would tell you that you absolutely need your own domain.
Independence: You have more administrative control over your own website, meaning you can install whatever plugins and make whatever design changes you like. The clubs with toastmost.org subdomains have control over their own websites, but within limits. (On the other hand, they don’t have to worry about as many of the technical details such as installing software updates and worrying about website security).
The main drawback to running an independent website, aside from the expense, is that you shoulder more of the technical burden of setting up the website and getting it running properly.
As an alternative to a toastmost.org subdomain or a completely independent website, I am offering $50 web hosting at your own domain, not including domain registration. This price is conditional on allowing me to run ads on your website, just as I do on the toastmost.org sites. This is a limited time offer, until Jan. 31, 2018 — subject to being extended if there is sufficient interest.
One reason for this offer is to make WordPress for Toastmasters more attractive to clubs who may already have their own web domain registered — or who think having their own domain is important — but have a limited budget for web hosting. I would provide the same preconfigured set of software that I do for toastmost.org sites but host it at your domain. You get the freedom to administer your website as you see fit, but with me backing you up and assisting with software updates and website security.
Please understand that this is not a money-making venture. The only way I stand to make money on this service is through referrals of other business or job opportunities (I’m a writer, editor, and digital impresario – look me up on LinkedIn). I do WordPress consulting on the side. My small business Carr Communications Inc. subsidizes the WordPress for Toastmasters project when it falls short of break even.
Meanwhile, sponsors of the WordPress for Toastmasters project get to run their ads on a larger network of websites. More sponsors ought to help me get this project to break even. Still, there is enough additional technical effort on my part to support the independent websites that I need to charge something for hosting at your own domain.
Bonus Branding Tip: Whether or not you have registered a domain, you can make your club more visible in Google search by going through Google’s “add your business” process to register your meeting location as a “place of business.” Google will then display your club website more prominently to people searching for “Toastmasters in [city name goes here].” As a result, you will get more visitors who are actively looking for a club in your area. There is no charge for this service (although once Google will send you lots of promotions asking you to advertise).
For example, here is a version with customizations to the banner image, heading text color and font, and a background image instead of a plain colored background. While you don’t have to go crazy with these options, you should at least know that you do have options.
What’s shown below is the “out of the box” design for a new site set up on the toastmost.org club website hosting service, with banner design choices displayed in the WordPress customizer tool. If you are running an independent website, you can install the Lectern theme to get access to the same options.
Customize is one of the menu options displayed on a black bar at the top of the page when you are logged in as a website administrator.
Here are a few of the design changes you can make using the customizer tool.
If you’re not afraid to mess around with a little code, the Customize tool also allows you to alter the default styles associated with your website by adding CSS code like this.
Here, we’re using the traditional web-safe fonts, which are commonly present on most computing devices with some fallback choices specified.
It’s possible to pick from a much larger variety of fonts by taking advantage of Google Fonts and similar programs. The Easy Google Fonts plugin is pre-installed on toastmost.org sites, but you have to activate it. In the example below, I’ve used Easy Google Fonts to change my main heading font to Charm.
You can configure the WordPress for Toastmasters software to send automated reminders to members who have taken a role (so we make sure they didn’t forget) and everyone else (so they can volunteer to fill open roles). Here’s how.
Assuming you already have future meetings scheduled, the date of your next meeting should be displayed under the Email Reminders section of your Settings -> Toastmasters screen. You must be a website administrator to access this screen.
You can set one or two reminders that will go out automatically, a specific number of hours or days before your meeting starts. After you have saved your settings the scheduled time of those reminders will be displayed on this screen.
One goal of automated reminders is to minimize the chance that members will forget what they signed up for. If they’re on the agenda to speak, we want them to show up prepared to speak — or let us know as soon as possible if they won’t be prepared. At my home club, Club Awesome, which meets Friday mornings at 7 a.m., members get a reminder two days in advance for that reason.
Optionally, you can also specify that everyone else who doesn’t have a role will get a meeting reminder that includes the current agenda and shows any roles that still need to be filled. If you have members recording planned absences through the website, they will be skipped when the reminder emails go out.
The example above is from Online Presenters Toastmasters, an advanced club that meets via video-conference Mondays at 7:30 US Eastern time. Reminders are set for four hours before and one hour before our meeting time.
Once you have set one of these reminders, it will go out on a weekly basis. However, the software does check first to make sure you actually have a meeting scheduled. So if you meet every other week, or occasionally cancel a meeting because of a holiday, everything should still work.
You want these reminders to be perceived as helpful, not annoying, so ask for feedback from your members on the number and timing of reminder emails you send. Try to find the right balance between automation and personal interaction.
The reminders can be customized for each role. I provide a default set of notification templates, which you can further customize if necessary. For example, the notifications for Online Presenters are customized to include the online meeting link.
Here’s the notification you would get if you will be Toastmaster of the Day.
By default, all the other role reminders also include the contact info for the Toastmaster of the Day in case the member needs to make their apologies or make a special request.
If you’re signed up to speak, your reminder occurs the speech details recorded on the website (meant to nudge the speaker into filling in any missing details).
The reminders that go to the evaluator and general evaluator include a listing of who all the speakers and evaluators are, along with their contact info. The idea is to make sure the members of the evaluation team can communicate with each other and with the speakers they will be evaluating. (Again, this is a default setup that can be changed).
The default notification for all other roles lists the member’s role, meeting date, link to the agenda / signup page on the website, and Toastmaster of the Day contact information.
If your club has a role that requires a little more explanation, you can create your own notification template (details below). Here’s an example of a custom notification for the Timer role used by Online Presenters that includes a paragraph on how to fulfill that role in an online environment.
If the default templates work for you, stop reading now. Consider the instructions below an advanced topic.
On the Toastmasters settings screen, you will see a link labeled “See also Notification / Reminder Templates.” You will also find a link to this screen under the RSVP Mailer menu.
This screen includes notification templates for RSVPMaker event registration notices as well as for Toastmasters meeting reminders.
The placeholder codes that you can use either in the body of a message or in the subject line are documented at the bottom of the page.
[rsvpdate] will be replaced with the meeting date and time
[wpt_tod] will be replaced with the name and contact info of the Toastmaster of the Day.
[officer title="VP of Education"] will output the name and contact info for the specified officer (the title must be exactly as you’ve spelled and punctuated it on the Toastmasters Settings screen).
The point of the codes is to make sure the most recent information will always be displayed, since officers and meeting participants change. But you can also enter regular paragraph of text or some simple HTML (like an on online meeting link).
Also on this screen is a link to a preview that will allow you to see the messages as that would be sent out to meeting participants, using real data from your next scheduled meeting.
Tell me how all this works for you. The goal is to save time and hassle, while maximizing participation for everyone involved in your club.
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