Distinguishing Between Agenda Signup, Assignment and Recommendation Modes

In addition to the default signup mode displayed to all members who log into the website to take a role on the agenda, there are a few different editing modes that can be used by meeting organizers. The new notification messages that appear above the menu are designed to distinguish between them more clearly — after a couple of members of my home club complained about being confused.

agenda notifications
Hey, make sure you know what you’re doing!
  • Edit Signups – the meeting organizer sees drop-down lists with the name of all members next to each role. Used to fill open roles and record changes. Great for recording assignments for volunteers who signed up by on a paper signup sheet or by giving instructions over the phone or by email.
  • Assign – Same as above, but with random assignments in the open roles.
  • Recommend – Also shows random assignments, but instead of being recorded immediately, members chosen for a role will receive an email message asking them to confirm they accept the assignment.

The “random” assignments are plugged into open roles. They aren’t entirely random because the choices are biased toward members who haven’t taken that particular role recently. But the most important thing to understand is that they are not actually recorded on the agenda. That’s what the text in red is supposed to clue you into.

Random assignment (unconfirmed)
Last attended: 2017-11-03 Last filled role: Jun 17 2016

In other words, this tool is supposed to help you fill your agenda, but I don’t want you to be confused about which roles have actually been filled.

You can either accept the suggestions or change them, but nothing will be recorded until you scroll to the bottom and click Save Changes. In Recommend mode, the role will not actually be reserved for that person. If the member wants to accept, they can do so with one click on the link in the email notification — provided that no one else has signed up for that role in the meantime.

There is also “Recommend instead of assign” checkbox that shows up in the Edit Signups / Assign modes, allowing you to mix the two modes. In other words, you can assign a list of volunteers to roles and also send role recommendation messages to a few other members. When you click the checkbox, a text entry box appears that allows you to add a message like, “Hey, looks like you haven’t spoken in 6 months – how about next week?”

Tell we what you find useful and how to make it more useful.

Choose Your Own Adventure: New Multi-Meeting Planning Tool

Here is an upgrade I have been planning for some time: an easier way of booking meeting roles multiple weeks in advance, instead of one meeting at a time. This also makes it easier for you to plan your progress through the program so that you’re speaking on a regular basis (depending on how quickly you are trying to advance) while also doing your part to keep the club healthy and meetings well-organized.

Here’s an overview:

If you are a club leader, and your club relies on self-service meeting role signups as an important part of how you organize your agenda, getting members to do a better job of planning ahead can take some of the pressure off. You may still need to coach members not to be too greedy about grabbing speaking slots week after week (or being too timid about volunteering to speak). Occasionally, you may need to reassign members, or let them know you have changed the agenda for a special meeting that does not include the role they originally signed up for.

Overall, though, I expect this to be helpful to my clubs. As a VP of Education or a Mentor, you might consider sitting down with a club member you are coaching and advising them on what roles you would like to see them sign up for.

Formula for Making Recommendations

Over time, I hope to make the software smarter about the recommendations it makes. Here is how it works so far:

  • Looks up any current assignments for the member for each meeting.
  • Looks up unassigned roles for each meeting.
  • Shuffles the unassigned roles into a random order.
  • Before making a suggestion, considers whether the member is eligible to fill the role (for example, whether they have given three or more speeches before signing up to evaluate). Tries to avoid repeatedly assigning members to the same role.
  • Displays the currently assigned role or the suggestion as the default choice, along with all the other open roles for that meeting.

Try it and let me know what you think.

Role Recommendations Versus Role Assignments

There are two modes in which a meeting planner can parcel out meeting roles to members: assigning roles and recommending roles. This distinction holds with or without the “random” assignment suggestion feature.

Which you use will depend on the culture of your club and how open members are to being “voluntold” to take a role, rather than volunteering for it.

You’re in assignment mode when you select either Edit Signups or Assign from the menu. The Assign option is a shortcut to turning on random assignment suggestions. When you assign a role to a member, you are reserving it for that person. The member will get an email notification that looks something like this:

assignment email
Assignment Notification

Traditionally, in my clubs the VPE (which used to be me) would use the editing or assigning role to record roles that people had signed up for on a paper signup sheet. In other words, they really had volunteered, just not on the website. However, other clubs are more proactive in having the VPE assign roles to members rather than waiting for them to volunteer. This has some advantages in terms of keeping members moving through the program and encouraging them to rotate through a variety of different roles.

When you use the Recommendation mode, you are asking rather than telling. The idea is that you can send the member a notification that makes it easy for them to confirm they will take the role (one-click confirmation). You can also include a personal note, explaining why the role would be good for them. But if they do not respond, the role will not be held open for them.

The email notification looks like this:

recommendation email
Recommended role notification asks member to confirm

The user can click that accept link and be instantly added to the agenda.

confirmation message
Confirming acceptance of a role

How to Set an ‘Away Message’ in WordPress for Toastmasters

When you are recruiting members to take roles at a meeting or for any volunteer purpose, it helps not to waste your time calling people who are unavailable. People who are on vacation or traveling on business may also want to let others know when they will be unavailable.

Set Away Message option on the dashboard

The “Away Message” function is meant to fill this need. You will see it advertised on the main dashboard and also on the public members page (when you are logged in).

You can enter your message with an expiration date to mark when you will return.

set away message
Setting an away message

The message then shows up on the individual’s profile on the member page (shown only to logged in members).

away message
Away message on the members page

One other context where this shows up is in the Recommend feature meeting organizers can use to nominate another member to take a role (they get an email alert and can confirm with one click). If someone is out of town, you won’t want to choose them, so their status is shown next to their name.

recommend away message
Away message in the context of the Recommend a role feature

Video: How to Reorder Speakers and Evaluators

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 video shows how you can now drag-and-drop to reorder roles. Continue reading “Video: How to Reorder Speakers and Evaluators”

Tracking, Updating Member Speech and Project History

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.

Update History options

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.

Overview of Member Progress in Pathways

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.

Pathways record for an individual member.

 

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.

Other Enhancements

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.

Pathways in WordPress for Toastmasters

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.

New: Random Assignment of Roles

When filling the gaps on the agenda for a particular meeting, you can now get the software to randomly assign members who have not taken a role to fill each opening.

Here is how that looks:

Randomly assign members to roles.
Randomly assign members to roles.

You will see the “show random assignments” link in both the edit signups and recommend modes of the agenda editor. When you click that link, the software will automatically plug members who have not been assigned a role into the open slots. Note that the software also displays some clues as to how recently the member has attended a meeting and how recently the member has filled that particular role. You have the opportunity to change the assignments or recommendations before submitting the form. If someone hasn’t shown up in months, you might think twice before counting on them to fill an important role.

In the editor’s edit signups mode, submitting the form will assign members to roles. In the recommend mode, the member receives a recommendation that they take the role and must confirm before that role is firmly assigned to them. I’ve learned that some clubs rely more on volunteers, while others dictate what roles users will take in upcoming meetings, so the software tries to support both styles.

I have received a few of requests for this feature, which apparently exists in some other software for Toastmasters clubs. This feature is available on toastmost.org websites and included with version 2.2 of the open source version, RSVPMaker for Toastmasters. It may still require more fine tuning.

You can try it on the demo site (demo.wp4toastmasters.com user: member, password: member).

Also new in this update, you can now change the number of future meetings to be displayed on the signup sheet from the default, which is 3. If you go up to 5 or 6, you will probably want to print the page in landscape rather than portrait orientation. This wouldn’t work well for my club, which has a fairly long list of roles, but might for some others. This was added on request of one particular VPE.

How to Fill a Toastmasters Meeting Agenda

The cycle starts with editing the agenda (based on the information you have so far), emailing it out, encouraging additional people to sign up online, printing the agenda and the signup sheet, and getting more people to sign up for future weeks during each meeting. For more accurate record keeping, you can also reconcile differences between the agenda and who actually showed up to fill roles.
The cycle starts with editing the agenda (based on the information you have so far), emailing it out, encouraging additional people to sign up online, printing the agenda and the signup sheet, and getting more people to sign up for future weeks during each meeting. For more accurate record keeping, you can also reconcile differences between the agenda and who actually showed up to fill roles.

Here is the process I recommend for making sure you have a full roster of speakers and volunteers for your next meeting, using the tools available through WordPress for Toastmasters.

Step 1: Get People to Sign Up at Your Meetings.

In my experience, you will not get everyone to sign up online, but you can save yourself some work if you can get even a fraction of your members to do so. Because my home club, Club Awesome, is healthy and growing, we have recently seen better participation from people signing up online for speeches — because we have speeches booked several weeks in advance. But we still pass around a paper signup sheet, which you can print from the website (more on that later).

After the meeting, the VP of Education or another officer will use the Edit Signups feature to record the offline signups in the online system.

edit-signups-menu
The “Edit Signups” option is in the menu at the top of the agenda.
Editing role assignments
Editing role assignments

Step 2: Invite Members to Fill the Gaps on the Agenda, Online

Next, email out the agenda. That option is under Agenda on the menu.

cycle2-email-agenda

You will have the opportunity to customize the subject line and add a personal note at the top of the message. What people receive in their email inbox will look something like this.

 

cycle-3-email-prompt

By including a link to the specific agenda we are trying to get people to sign up for, you encourage people to sign up online. Ideally, you want them to come in and click on Take Role.

cycle1-self-service

Some people will instead email you back. That works, too.

In my club, the Toastmaster of the Day is supposed to be responsible for filling all roles (as much as possible) prior to the day of the meeting. Sending another of these email messages, showing the roles that are still open, is one way to do that. Typically, we also wind up making a few phone calls, sending a few texts, whatever is needed to fill out the roster.

We then go back into Edit Signups mode to add the people who didn’t sign up online but let us know through some other channel that we can count them in.

Step 3: Print the Agenda and the Signup Sheet

Click on Agenda (or the Print submenu option) to get a printable version of the agenda. Alternatively, you can click on Export to Word to get a version of the agenda you can edit and format further in Microsoft Word.

cycle-4-print-agenda

Click on Signup Sheet to get a printable signup sheet. The roles that have already been filled by people signing up online (or that you or another officer previously reserved for them) will already be filled in, making it clear which open roles you still want to fill.

cycle-5-signup-sheet

Pass around the signup sheet during your meeting. Repeat Step 1, recording the offline signups and sending out another email inviting people to participate.

Step 4: Reconcile the Agenda with Reality

If you are using the record keeping and reporting features of WordPress for Toastmasters, you or some other club leaders should also be responsible for making notes on how the plan differed from reality. In other words, who signed up but didn’t show up? Who stepped up at the last minute to fill a role?

cycle-6-reconcile

Under the Toastmasters menu on the Administrator’s dashboard, you will find a screen called Reconcile that allows you to reconcile your records with reality. It works a lot like the Edit Signups function, except that you use it to record data on past meetings rather than future ones. Optionally, you can also record who was called on for table topics. If you want to track attendance, you can also do that on this screen.

Extra Credit

It is possible to go a little more paperless with this process by recording edits to the roster online, while you’re at the meeting, using a laptop, an iPad or even a smart phone. I’ve tested the signup form on my phone, and it works pretty well.