The latest update to WordPress for Toastmasters makes it easier to rearrange the order in which we want speakers and evaluators to be listed on the agenda, which might not be the same as the order in which they signed up.
For example, my home club, Club Awesome, follows a tradition of allowing a member giving their Icebreaker to go first — so they can get it over with, if they’re nervous, and relax for the rest of the meeting. Or you might want to accommodate a speaker who needs to arrive late or leave early.
Also, several clubs have requested the ability to have the agenda display which speakers are matched with which evaluators. To make that work, we want to be able to rearrange the order so we can match speakers and evaluators appropriately (for example, to have a member’s mentor be the one who evaluates their icebreaker).
The development of this software has been largely a one-man show to date, but having more eyes on the code will force me to clean up some of my own sloppy habits and bring more ideas into the process. I am new to doing collaboration through Github, but it is well known among open source developers. Even if you do not know how to fix or improve the code, you can post feature requests and ideas on the issues tab within one of the repositories.
Notes for Developers
Note that RSVPMaker is used for other purposes outside of Toastmasters for all sorts of scheduling and event registration tasks. Toastmasters-specific functionality needs to be packed primarily into RSVPMaker for Toastmasters. However, sometimes it’s necessary to retool the RSVPMaker code to make it more flexible, so we can do what we need to do in a Toastmasters context. Ideally, those improvements also make it more flexible and capable for other purposes. Read more about RSVPMaker at rsvpmaker.com.
RSVPMaker defines a custom post type for events, in addition to the native WordPress page and post types. RSVPMaker posts have additional metadata associated with them such as event date and whether RSVPs (registrations) are being collected, what information should be collected from each attendee, whether a price is to be charged by PayPal or Stripe. Those options are displayed in the editor and dictate the display and interactivity of the event post.
RSVPMaker also allows you to establish templates that can be used to generate multiple events with the same characteristics, such as multiple Toastmasters meetings with the same agenda.
For the member signup form and printable agenda, RSVPMaker for Toastmasters uses WordPress shortcodes, which are placeholders for interactive features. When WordPress displays a post, it checks for any shortcodes embedded in the content and invokes the functions they are link to.
This is displayed differently in different contexts.
Anonymous user sees: names of people who have signed up to speak. Prompt at top of agenda inviting members to log in.
Logged in member sees: three speaker signup slots on a web form, with prompts to enter manual, project, title, and intro.
VP of Education editing the lineup sees: speaker signup form with a drop down list of all members who can be assigned to the speaking role.
Member printing the agenda sees: A printable view of the data recorded on the form, including member name, manual, project, and title.
Those are a few concepts I thought it was important to explain up front, but I’m sure anyone who digs into the code will have more questions. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This workshop was delivered as part of a meeting of Online Presenters Toastmasters, a club that meets online and focuses on developing skills for webinars and online meetings.
The WordPress for Toastmasters project aims to give clubs a first-class web and social media marketing platform to use when promoting their clubs, along with Toastmasters specific features such as meeting role signup. David F. Carr, the founding President of Online Presenters, is also the prime mover behind the development of the WordPress for Toastmasters software. In this educational workshop, he covers some of the essentials for using the software effectively, and answers questions from the club and guest attendees.
This workshop particularly focuses on what club webmasters and club officers need to know to manage a WordPress for Toastmasters website. This is partly education for the officers of Online Presenters, most of whom are new to the software. I will also be covering some new features, such as the option to sync data between multiple websites running this software.
Because Online Presenters meets via video conference, this may be a better opportunity to get your questions answered than the webinars I’ve presented in the past where you had to type in your questions.
The formal meeting really starts at 8 pm EDT, but we encourage guests to sign in for our informal meet-and-greet / technical troubleshooting session starting at 7:30.
Club website administrators now have the option to allow the WordPress for Toastmasters software to backup and sync member progress report data, meaning data about speeches and other roles filled within the club. For the small but growing number of members who belong to multiple clubs that manage their agendas this way, this makes it possible to get a consolidated view of your activity across multiple clubs.
If you are giving speeches from the same manual at a couple of different clubs, this gives you (and your VP of Education) a better way of tracking your progress.
When I view the progress reports screen on clubawesome.org, I see a message showing how many records have been uploaded and how many have been downloaded from the repository on wp4toastmasters.com.
Club websites hosted on toastmost.org (a free service of the WordPress for Toastmasters project) share a common user/member database. If you belong to multiple clubs that employ that service, the data sharing is automatic.
To work across multiple independently hosted websites, the data sync service must be turned on by an administrator at each site. When this is enabled, updates are transmitted to wp4toastmasters.org and recorded in a database there, indexed by Toastmasters Member ID. (The Toastmasters Member ID must be recorded on the user profile for this to work). The data shared does not include personal data such as phone numbers or email addresses. It is limited to records such as speech dates, titles, and manual projects, as well as the dates on which members filled other roles such as Toastmaster of the Day or Ah Counter.
In addition to allowing data to sync between club websites, this provides a backup of your records of club member achievements.
I can imagine this feature may be disallowed by some clubs, such as corporate clubs with websites hosted on company servers where IT has strict security policies. Or at least, the IT department may need to be convinced that this is safe.
For those who want or need the technical details:
Data is encoded as JSON, transmitted as an HTTPS PUT to wp4toastmasters.com over SSL and recorded in a SQL database. If the database contains records for the same member from a different club website, those are downloaded as JSON.
The latest update to the WordPress for Toastmasters software includes several improvements to the system for tracking member activity, including more (still preliminary) support for the Pathways program.
The Toastmasters menu on the WordPress dashboard shows different options to the average member than to the administrator and club officers. The site administrator also has the option of deciding whether members should be able to see all the reports or only their own data (go to Settings -> Toastmasters and open the tab labeled Security).
At a minimum, every member has access to the My Progress screen with tabs labeled Basic Program (showing progress in the Competent Communicator and Competent Leader manuals), Speeches (listed chronologically and by manual), Advanced Awards, and Pathways. The Pathways screen is described in more detail below.
If the club allows members to update and edit their own data, tabs labeled Edit and Add Member Speech will also be displayed.
The Progress Reports screen is organized into the same list of tabs, but with the option to view reports and enter data for any member in the club.
Update History: One potentially disruptive change, for some club leaders, is the renaming of what used to be called the “Reconcile” screen on the administrator’s dashboard to “Update History.” If you are trying to keep accurate records of member speeches and roles completed, reconciling the agenda after the meeting is an important step to make sure the right people get credit for their participation. Letting the system gather most of that information from the agenda saves you time, but the reconciliation process cleans up discrepancies like last minute changes where one member was unable to attend and another stepped up to speak.
The reason for the name change is this screen can now be used to enter history from before you began using this software. For example, I was contacted by an officer of a club that has been meeting for several months and had records of roles filled at past meetings recorded on a spreadsheet. While it’s possible to record summary statistics like number of speeches given per manual, I wanted to make it easier for someone in that position to enter a series of meeting records without the need to create a bunch of back-dated events in the system.
How Precise Do You Want to Be?
As a club leader, it is up to you to decide how thorough you want to be about logging all data through the website software. It’s the software’s job to support your choices.
If you just want to use the website as a tool for organizing your meetings, you will get some basic tracking of member activity “for free” as part of that process, and the record will become more complete (particularly for new members) as time goes on). If that’s your attitude, you may not want to enter historical information at all.
Or you may want to add historical information at more of a summary level. The Edit tab in the Progress Reports screen will let a club leader enter summary statistics like how many speeches members have concluded in each manual. In other words, you can enter the number of CC speeches given, rather than entering the date, speech project, and title for each one. From that screen you can also make corrections to agenda records, such as adding the manual and project for a speech when that wasn’t done in advance.
The argument for adding detailed historical information is that you and your members will need all the detailed information when applying for awards, meaning it could save you time and effort in the long run to have the data all in one place.
The Update History screen will allow you to enter records for past meetings on any date, using a form based on your meeting template.
If you just want to record speech projects, there is also the Add Member Speech tab on the Progress Reports screen.
New Pathways Tab
WordPress for Toastmasters has been phasing in some preliminary support for Pathways, the new Toastmasters educational program just starting to roll out to a handful of districts. I’ve been getting some exposure to it through Online Presenters Toastmasters, an online club I founded in which some of our members are also members of a club in a Pathways district.
WordPress for Toastmasters now includes Pathways projects on the signup form. The new web-based evaluation forms (introduced largely for the convenience of online clubs) also cover Pathways projects.
There is now a Pathways tab on the Progress reports screen that displays a summary of the progress of each member participating in Pathways. It shows a count of speeches completed in each level of the path selected by that member.
When viewing the records for a specific member, you will see the listing of speeches the member has completed within that path. There is also a space for adding notes on other activities, such as completing self-assessments, that are part of the Pathways program.
Toastmasters International is providing more of its own online tools as part of the Pathways program, and it is not my intent to compete with them. The idea is to provide easier access to the information you gather in the natural course of business when you use WordPress for Toastmasters to organize your meeting agendas.
Following a recent overhaul of the way WordPress for Toastmasters tracks member data, club websites can now share member data with other clubs using the same software. This is automatic for clubs that host their sites on toastmost.org (a free service of the WordPress for Toastmasters project) because they share a common user/member database. In the coming weeks, I will introduce a service allowing clubs that run the software on independent websites to sync their data.
Tools for editing all this progress report data have also been updated for what you should find to be a smoother user experience. Feedback on how to improve it further is always welcome.
WordPress for Toastmasters now includes web forms you can fill out to give written feedback to a speaker, eliminating the need to upload, download, and email back and forth files. The completed evaluation will be emailed to the speaker and saved to the user’s progress report page on the website. (A simpler version for clubs on Easy Speak or some other software is available here).
I’ve been learning about how operating an online club is different through my work with Online Presenters, and this strikes me as an opportunity to fill an unmet need.
It strikes me as foolish and awkward for members of a club that does all its business online to require people to follow a paper-based process for evaluations. Besides, a form I complete online is much more likely to be readable than one I download, print, scribble on, scan, and email. And expecting everyone to know how to edit PDFs, which are essentially digitized paper documents, is unreasonable.
Forms corresponding to speech projects in the basic and advanced manuals in the “old” Toastmasters program most of us are still going through are available, adapted from “evaluation guides” documents available on the Internet that give just the evaluation prompts from the manuals.
I’m showing a Pathways example above. So far, I only have forms for a couple of Pathways projects, but see below for details on how you can help with my crowd sourced approach to filling in the gaps. Although Toastmasters International classifies online clubs as undistricted, and undistricted clubs will be among the very last to get Pathways, Online Presenters already has dual members asking to do Pathways speeches, even though they will need to get credit for them in their other club. Providing a written evaluation is one way of giving them the documentation they will need to share with their land based club VPE.
When evaluating a project for which no specific form is available, you will get a form with three generic prompts commonly used in Pathways —
You excelled at
You may want to work on
To challenge yourself
— plus a space for entering additional comments.
Even when a project-specific form is available, it may still make sense for the speaker to email the evaluator with background information about the goals of the project, but I will recommend that members of my online club complete the written evaluations themselves through the website.
Here is a mockup of a completed form, as it would be displayed for printing. The same content is sent to the speaker via email.
Adding and Editing Forms
All the evaluation forms are stored in a centralized repository at wp4toastmasters.com and provided to individual websites as a cloud service. Site editors and administrators have access to a screen that allows them to add or edit content for the forms, as shown below. If you find an error, or you can add a project that is not yet covered, your edits will be shared with all other WordPress for Toastmasters users.
I found it was possible to copy and paste much of this content from PDFs, like those being distributed to members in the Pathways programs or the evaluation guides developed by Toastmasters members. Pasted in content does require some cleanup, and you need to understand how this text-based form editor works.
A simple prompt that appears on the form over a text entry box, like “You excelled at” would be entered on a single line under Speech Prompts.
Multiple choice prompts, like those that ask you to rate the speaker on a 1 to 5 scale, are entered with the introductory label separated from the choices, and each of the choices separated from each other, using the | symbol.
Here is what that looks like as a prompt on the form (the actual label text is a little more than I’m showing above).
The evaluator filling out this form checks off the most appropriate choice and can also enter a comment.
Potentially, some offline clubs could also find this useful for members who are more comfortable typing than writing their written evaluations. I suppose one danger is the online format gives you an opportunity to be longwinded. My recommendation would be to give written feedback the speaker will find meaningful, perhaps covering points you didn’t get to in your aural evaluation, then stop.
Here is a look at how I plan to support Pathways speech project signups in WordPress for Toastmasters. This should be sufficient to allow a club that has started on Pathways to manage its agenda using the software and for club officers to do some basic tracking of member progress through the program.
Since Pathways is not yet implemented in my district, I took the list of projects from a PDF document that outlines the paths and levels. My understanding is many projects will continue to be 5-7 minute speeches, but in some cases a single project may require multiple speeches (and some may not be speech projects at all).
I set things up so a VPE, or members reviewing their own progress, can see the list of speeches in each path and level and match it against the program guidelines. Eventually, it should be possible to build on this foundation with a better understanding of how the Pathways program works.
I’m looking for feedback on whether this approach makes sense.
A time saving tip for club leaders and meeting organizers is to confirm meeting participation using SMS text messages to their mobile phones, which tends to work better than email and is quicker (for both of you) than calling.
WordPress for Toastmasters can streamline this process by sending an email summary of an upcoming meeting agenda, with contact info for each of the participants, to your mobile phone. This video shows me viewing that information in the Gmail app on my Android phone and clicking on the mobile phone numbers of the members I want to contact. By pressing and holding for a moment, I get a popup menu that allows me to choose whether I want to call or use SMS (send a text message).
If you use the automated meeting role reminders feature, WordPress can be set to send an email reminder to each participant several hours or days before the time of the meeting. The Toastmaster of the Day also receives a complete summary of the agenda with contact information for each of the participants, plus a listing of all the members who have NOT been assigned a role and might be available.
On the website, you can view this same information by going to the Agenda menu for a specific meeting and choosing Agenda with Contacts.
This will give you a view of the agenda that includes contact information. If you want to use the SMS messaging trick, you can click “Email to me” and then view the message on your phone.
Note that for the SMS messaging trick to work, members must have filled in their mobile phone number in their member profile. You can also edit the phone numbers listed in their profiles. For U.S. phone numbers, +1 will be added at the beginning of the mobile number for the US dialing code (necessary for the automatic dialing to work). Numbers outside of the U.S. should be entered with the international dialing code (Example: +44-555-12-12-1234).
Members who will be out of town or unable to attend meetings for some period of time can set a temporary “Away Message” to be displayed next to their contact info as a signal that they do not want to receive calls or texts until after their return.
The “Away Message” shows up on the emailed version of the contact list and also on the member directory listing on the website (assuming your club includes that on its website).
This tip is aimed at club webmasters who already have some skill with web design or have an ambition to learn. The club websites hosted at toastmost.org are meant to be usable by Toastmasters without previous web technology or design skills, but I appreciate that others come to the experience knowing HTML (the language for structuring web pages) and CSS (the language for specifying fonts, font sizes, font colors, and other design parameters).
Part of the WordPress for Toastmasters solution is a theme called Lectern that, in addition to supporting a standard Toastmasters approved logo banner, specifies the fonts and general layout of the website. It has the advantage of adhering closely to WordPress standards, including the flexibility to resize pages when viewed on a mobile device.
WordPress includes a utility called the Customizer (look for the Customize link on the black bar at the top of the screen when you’re logged in as the administrator) that allows you to change basic layout parameters such as the background colors. There is also a utility that allows you to add some custom CSS that will override the defaults set in the theme.
Here is an example of a snippet of code added to change the styling of the club name, as displayed in the website banner.
Making this work understands some understanding of how CSS works, but you can find a million tutorials on the web if this is something you want to learn. In the example above, I’m changing the font-family specification for h1 (the top level headline) within the section (div) of the page with the ID #toastmastersheader.
You can view the default CSS for the current release of Lectern here:
This entire project is open source, and I would welcome contributions from web developers and designers who would like to collaborate on improving it. Meanwhile, the Customize utility gives you a lot of freedom to tweak the appearance of a site to your own taste.
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