Optional Rules for Managing Your Agenda

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.

The new Rules tab on the Settings screen.

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.

Speaker Points Report

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:

Prompting a member to sign up for another role.

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.

Preventing a member from signing up to speak.

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?

Support for the Engaging Humor Path, Plus Updated Evaluation Forms

Picking a one of the new Pathways humor projects.

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.

Online evaluation form for Know Your Sense of Humor

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.

Attracting Attention (and Members) to Your Club – Training Presentation Links and Resources

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.

Carr's law of marketing: First, they have to know you exist. Click To Tweet

Video workshop at Online Presenters, Monday February 4, 2019

Register at https://op.toastmost.org/video-editing

Meeting opens with meet and greet at 7:30 pm, workshop starts at 8

Blog post: How to Routinely Record and Share Speeches at Your Club

The free video editor in Windows 10:

Here’s an example of a Club Awesome promo video featuring multiple testimonials:

WordPress for Toastmasters
https://wp4toastmasters.com

Get a free website or free software for any self-hosted WordPress website (not WordPress.com)

Club Awesomewww.clubawesome.org

Club Awesome Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/awesometoastmasters/

Note the extensive use of video, including a video cover image.

List your “place of business” (club meeting place) on Google
https://google.com/business

How to Completely Optimize Your Google My Business Listing (Tutorial)
https://www.searchenginejournal.com/local-seo/optimize-google-my-business/

Collect Dues and Event Fees Online

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.

Here’s what the payment buttons look like on the Join page of the Online Presenter Toastmasters. To see the user experience, you can post a test transaction (using a fake credit card for demo purposes).

Dues payment at Online Presenters

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.

Read more about how it works in the blog at RSVPMaker.com.

Stripe Beta Program for Nonprofits

Here’s what Stripe told me about their pricing for nonprofits.

We’re currently testing how we can better support US nonprofits, and we’d love to offer you our new nonprofit beta pricing of:

2.2% + 30¢ for non-AmEx transactions
3.5% for AmEx transactions

Please note that by accepting these discounted rates your organization will also be subject to any updated policies on our pricing page:

https://stripe.com/us/pricing

If you’re interested, create an account at stripe.com and then write to nonprofit@stripe.com.

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.

How to Change the Number of Speakers and Time Allowed

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.

Changing the number of speeches to make room for a long one.

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.

Time estimates change as you make your choices.

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.

Changing the timing in the editor.

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.

WordPress for Toastmasters at Your Own Domain?

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.

Domain options

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.

My home club has clubawesome.org, which is also an independent domain.

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.

Please understand that WordPress for Toastmasters 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.

Other strategies are possible. The online Toastmasters club Competitive communicators registered competitivecommunicators.com but set it up to forward to https://competitivecommunicators.toastmost.org/. You can register other internet services such as email to work with your domain, while still using toastmost.org for your website.

Toastmasters Domain Hosting Offer

As an alternative to the toastmost.org service, you can contract with my small business Carr Communications Inc. to host a WordPress website at your own domain for $90 per year, not including domain registration. I will pre-configure the WordPress for Toastmasters software and keep it up to date. You will gain greater administrative control. If your club would be interested in the hosting-at-your-domain offer, contact me at david@wp4toastmasters.com.

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 would still like my help setting it up. 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.

If your club would be interested in the hosting-at-your-domain offer, contact me at david@wp4toastmasters.com.

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).

Styling Your WordPress for Toastmasters Website

When you set up a WordPress for Toastmasters website, you get a site design that fits within Toastmasters branding requirements — but with the freedom to introduce your own flourishes.

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.

Toastmasters banner choices.

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.

The Customize menu option

Here are a few of the design changes you can make using the customizer tool.

The basic black banner
Changing the background color
White banner, background and heading text colors matched to the Toastmasters logo.
Changing the font for the headings

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.

#toastmastersheader h1.site-title {
	font-size: 50px;
        font-family: "Comic Sans MS", cursive, sans-serif;
}
#toastmastersheader h2.site-description {
	font-size: 40px;
}

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.

Google Fonts example

With these techniques, you can give your club website a unique look, while still respecting the boundaries of the Toastmasters International brand manual. What I believe is even more important is the content that goes inside the frame of your website design. Remember to show what makes your club special!

Automated Meeting Reminders: Setup and Tips

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.

Setting reminders

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.

Role-Specific Reminders

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.

Agenda with contact info for participants sent to 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).

Reminder for a speaker

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.

Reminder for a meeting role

Notification Templates

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.

Notification templates screen

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.

For example:

[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.

The preview of a notification to an evaluator.

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.

Replay: WordPress for Toastmasters Tutorial / Q&A for November 2018

This session didn’t attract a large crowd, but it attracted a good one — with lots of excellent questions. I hope you benefit from learning the answers.

Show Notes

The two plugins used in the WordPress for Toastmasters system are RSVPMaker and RSVPMaker for Toastmasters.

They are pre-installed on Toastmost.org accounts.

The Lectern theme makes it easy to add Toastmasters approved branding.

The documentation is at WordPress for Toastmasters (wp4toastmasters.com) and you can go to Toastmost.org to register for a free (ad supported website).

Video: Working with the Interactive Agenda

This tutorial covers some hidden gems and relatively new features in the WordPress for Toastmasters agenda management system, such as the ability to assign roles based on who hasn’t done them lately and the “Agenda with Contacts” view that lets you see contact information of members in the context of who has or has not taken a role.

Agenda menu tutorial

I presented this as a speech at Club Awesome Toastmasters in Coral Springs, Florida, where the WordPress for Toastmasters software was born.

This tutorial doesn’t cover absolutely everything, but it touches on the major menu items. The basic idea to understand is that the agenda is a document that can be viewed in multiple modes:

  • A role signup form
  • A meeting organizer’s view of the form for editing assignments
  • A printable agenda
  • A version you can send to members via email when you are trying to fill roles, showing openings on the agenda and the link to follow to sign up
Continue reading “Video: Working with the Interactive Agenda”