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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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, email@example.com will not work but firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com can be set to forward to whatever address or list of addresses you specify.
Heads up, users of the toastmost.org service for hosting club websites. Because relying on donations and sponsor advertising isn’t generating enough money to cover my costs, I plan to begin charging $30 per club per year at the beginning of 2020.
This fee will apply to clubs whose website has been registered on the site for more than one year. Going forward, I will continue to allow a generous one-year trial period — which should be long enough for clubs to see the value.
Metrics of success I would suggest looking for when you decide whether to stick with toastmost.org or migrate away to Free Toast Host, easySpeak, or some other option:
Visitors praise your website when telling you how they found your club. This assumes you have published valuable, engaging content (the software doesn’t do that for you, but it should make it easier).
Your VPE and other officers are saving time when organizing the agenda and appreciate features like automated meeting role reminder messages.
You recognize the value of paying to support investments in improving the security and performance of your club website.
If you are not achieving success with the platform, I am available to coach you to greater success. Everything on the list above is something my clubs have achieved, which is why I decided to share these resources with other clubs in the first place. Moving to a paid model will mean redoubling my commitment to making more clubs realize the value of the software and services.
Outside of toastmost.org, the same software is available, free and open source, for you to install on your own web server. That can be a good option for those with the necessary budget and technical wherewithal, but toastmost.org hosting means I worry about most of the techie details.
A friend advised me to name a higher number (based partly on the idea that people often don’t value things that come cheap), but $30 USD is calibrated to be substantially less than the cost of hosting and independent website and not so much that any club can’t scrape together that money once a year.
Donations and Sponsor Advertising Still Welcome
I still hope to raise a little money through donations and sponsor advertising — see the information posted at wp4toastmasters.org/support — and I thank the handful of sponsors and advertisers who have helped out over the past few years. Ultimately, I think it’s fairer to everybody to require a modest annual contribution from all toastmost.org users than continue to lean on a few generous people and clubs.
My own small editorial/digital consulting business will continue to contribute to the cause, operating this venture at a modest loss — I just can’t afford to allow the loss to keep growing. I personally will continue to contribute substantial amounts of time to improving the software because I love the challenge and believe in the mission of providing Toastmasters clubs with better digital tools.
As the founding President of an online club, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to construct smoother workflows for processes like enrolling members. This online member application submission and approval process is part of that. We’re currently piloting it at both Online Presenters Toastmasters and Club Awesome (a traditional offline club) and have seen a flurry of new applications in the space of a few days — which looks to me like evidence that we’ve successfully reduced some friction in the process.
By “online,” I mean this is an application process built where the new member fills out a web-based form that includes agreement to all the same legal terms you would find on the PDF or paper versions of the application. The completed application is saved as an HTML formatted document that is stored as part of your club’s online records and can be shared via email.
Update, June 22: I’ve now gone through the process of submitting a couple of transfer applications in this format to the Membership Department at the Toastmasters International, and they’ve accepted them with one proviso. As additional validation of the member’s digital signature, they have asked that the member personally confirm the transfer request by email.
The video below shows the user experience for the member completing the application and paying dues, as well as the reviewing and approving incoming applications, then creating member accounts on the website.
This is part of the WordPress for Toastmasters system for club marketing and meeting management. It takes advantage of the online payment features introduced a few months ago.
If no online payment has been received, the club officer reviewing the application will see a notice saying so at the top of the page. That notice is accompanied by a payment link you can copy-and-paste into your follow up email to the member. Or maybe you have received a payment by check or some other means, in which case you can ignore that alert and approve the application anyway.
Setting Up the Form
Getting this to work includes a little back-end setup to establish your club’s dues schedule and create a page on your website where the application will be displayed. There is a separate settings screen for this feature, labeled TI Application Form.
When you first load that setup screen, you will have to fill in some blanks. If you haven’t previously signed up for an account on the stripe.com online payment service and obtained the required API keys for integration with the website, you’ll have to do that now if you want to take advantage of the online payment feature.
Once you’ve completed the setup, the screen will look like this, with details on your own dues as well as the TI dues prorated by month.
Note that at the bottom of the setup page there are links to view or edit the member application page. That page will contain a placeholder code for the form itself, but you can add your own content before or after it (for example to provide some additional info on your dues).
Before creating this, I verified with Toastmasters International that the legalese in the membership application form includes terms about how a digital signature on an application is legally binding. That’s something you agree to when submitting a digital application.
However, I believe this is much less awkward than emailing around PDFs (in my online club) or dealing with data entry issues like unreadable handwriting on paper forms leading to emails being entered incorrectly when we register a member (an issue for my offline club). It’s also one smooth process rather than a series of fragmented processes.
Here’s a replay of the second in this series of conversations about the WordPress for Toastmasters software, what it does well today, and its potential for the future. Thank you to everyone who participated. I’ll be following up with answers that came up during the event, and anyone who watches me is welcome to send their own questions.
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.
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