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.

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”

Making It Easier To See Which Members Haven’t Taken A Given Role (or Not Lately)

The clubs who use the WordPress for Toastmasters software include a mix of those who ask for volunteers, those who make assignments, and those who do a little of both to fill their meeting agendas.

In any of those modes, good club leaders seek to encourage members to take on a variety of responsibilities. Now, it’s easier to see who hasn’t taken a given role, or who hasn’t done so lately.

The “Last Did Role” listing

In the screen shot above, an example from demo.toastmost.org, we can see there are several people shown who have never given a speech in this club. George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt are listed as having spoken, but not since May 2017. So any of these people might deserve a nudge (or a kick in the pants, if you prefer).

What you are seeing here is the drop-down listing of members in the Edit Signups view of the agenda. If I pick a name, this speaking slot will be recorded as assigned to that person.

An alternative is to check “Recommend instead of assign” which will display a notes field where I can add a message encouraging the individual to take that role. They will then get an email notification and can accept with one click.

This feature was added in response to a request from a club VP Education who had been spending a lot of time trying to make sure members rotated through all the available roles.

If you have ideas for features that would make the software more productive for the operations of your club, just ask, and we’ll try to make it happen.

Update: Role Report

After seeing this history displayed in the dropdown list, my friend Roger Fung, VP of Education at Online Presenters, asked for a report where he could see all this data shown side-by-side.

Here is what the new Role Report looks like:

Role Report summary of who did what when

How to Move Content and Member Data from toastmost.org to a New WordPress Site

If you use the free website hosting on toastmost.org, which is part of the WordPress for Toastmasters project, you may eventually want to graduate to hosting at your own domain.

There are tradeoffs (more responsibility for technical details), but you also get more control over the site setup and potentially a branding advantage from hosting at your own domain. For example, my home club, Club Awesome, is clubawesome.org. Toastmost sites all have a subdomain address like op.toastmost.org for my own beloved Online Presenters Toastmasters.

If you decide you have outgrown your toastmost.org site, you can move at any time. The process I recommend is:

  1. Get yourself a new WordPress website, which might cost you a couple of hundred dollars a year from any reputable web host. (It can’t be a free WordPress.com site because it won’t allow you to install the WordPress for Toastmasters software).
  2. Install and activate the RSVPMaker and RSVPMaker for Toastmasters plugins on your new website. I recommend you also install and activate any of the other optional plugins you have been using because if they’re not active, that can cause problems with the import process.
  3. Optionally, also install the Lectern theme and select one of the standard Toastmasters International approved logo banner images.
  4. Transfer your member account and speech record data from your toastmost.org site to your new site (explained below).
  5. Export your website content from your toastmost.org site and import into the new site (explained below).

Transferring Member Data

Way down the end of the Toastmasters menu on the administrator’s dashboard is an Import / Export screen, which among other things allows you to export summary member data to a spreadsheet.

A recent addition to that screen is a new feature for transferring member accounts to another computer.

Rather than having you download a file from one site and upload it into another, this is set up so you can transfer the files directly from one site to another.

You do this by copying a coded link from the old site to the new site.

The code that allows you (or another webmaster you are working with) to copy over the member data expires after 24 hours. You can reset it if necessary.

Copying the coded link for transfer between websites.

This does NOT copy over passwords, so one chore when you start actively using your new site will be resetting member passwords. There is a section of the Add Members screen that allows you to “re-send” invitations to members, which you can use for that purpose.

Export and Import

WordPress provides a standard mechanism for downloading an export file from one site and importing it into another. I recommend using a modified version of that approach.

Two problems I’ve run into with the standard WordPress export / import:

  1. The size of the export file often exceed the file upload limit on the target new website.
  2. RSVPMaker event posts may not import properly, and this is particularly true of multiple events with the same title (like your weekly meeting agendas), which it thinks are duplicates.

I recommend using the Export RSVPMaker screen under the Tools menu instead of the standard Export screen. If you export your RSVPMaker posts using this method, then import them using the standard WordPress import screen, they will come over to your new site properly.

The default is to copy over future posts, templates, and other special documents (like agenda layouts) but not past events. Optionally, you can also export your standard WordPress content (pages, posts, menus etc.) at the same time.

Example: exporting future events, plus pages posts and other content, with a 2MB file limit

In the process, you can specify a file size limit so you will not exceed the file upload limit of your new site. The export feature will generate several smaller export files rather than exceed that limit.

Multiple export files generated.

Instructions from WordPress.org

To import from a WordPress export file (WXR) into a WordPress blog follow these steps.

  1. Log into that blog as an administrator.
  2. Go to Tools → Import in the blog’s Administration Screen.
  3. Click “Install Now” link under the “WordPress”
  4. Click “Run Importer” link.
  5. Upload your WXR file using the form provided on that page.
  6. You will first be asked to map the authors in this export file to users on the blog. For each author, you may choose to map to an existing user on the blog or to create a new user.
  7. WordPress will then import each of the posts, comments, and categories contained in the uploaded file into your blog. In addition, you can import attachment by checking the “Download and import file attachments” option.

Caveats

The order stated above is important. You want your user/member accounts set up on the new site before you import content. As part of the import process, WordPress will prompt you to specify which authors from the old site should be associated with which user accounts on the new site.

The “Download and import file attachments” option mentioned above should work to copy over images and other files in your media library such as PDFs. However, it doesn’t necessarily automatically change the links or image urls in your blog posts and pages.

I’m trying to do my part to make this as easy as possible, but there is still work involved.

How to Show Contact Info for Members With and Without a Meeting Assignment

To run a well-organized meeting, one important pre-meeting task is confirming members with roles and contacting members who do not have an assigned role to ask them if they can fill an opening. Broadcasting the agenda to your list can be helpful, but often contacting specific individuals is more effective.

For help with that chore, you can use the Agenda with Contacts view of your meeting agenda. This feature has been in the software for some time, but is probably used less than it ought to be. I recently updated it to work with the new agenda editor and to display the planned absences list if you are using that feature.

You will find this option under the Agenda menu.

Navigating to the Agenda with Contacts screen

This displays a listing of your meeting roles with not only the names of the members assigned to those roles but their contact information. (Encourage your members to check that the contact information on their profile is correct).

Agenda with Contacts listing

If you click the Email to me link, this information will be emailed to the address in your own user profile. I often use that feature to get the information onto my smartphone, which makes it easier for me to call or text message the members I want to reach.

Following all the meeting roles and assignments, you will find the listing of planned absences (where members have proactively recorded that they will miss one or more meetings) and the list of members without a role.

The listing of who is absent and who does not have an assignment.

Video: How to Import Your Member List, Then Add/Sync Accounts After Dues Renewal

To get the most out of WordPress for Toastmasters, create accounts for all your members so you can assign them to roles, or allow them to sign themselves up, using the agenda management software that is part of the package. The quickest way to do that is to import the member spreadsheet you can get from Club Central on toastmasters.org.

Whether one at a time or as a batch, you add member accounts from the Add Members screen under Users.

Batch Import option on the Add Members screen

After a few months have passed and the dues renewal period comes and goes, you will want to clean up your list — removing members who are no longer in good standing with your club. Again, importing the spreadsheet from toastmasters.org is the quickest way. This time, you will want to check the checkbox that says “check for missing members,” which compares your current user list against TI’s list of active members.

This video shows the process.

User Import Demo Video

One advantage of creating user accounts based on the spreadsheet is the system will capture the member’s Toastmasters ID #, which can then be used as a lookup key when you subsequently sync accounts. In the absence of a Toastmasters ID, the system can try to match records on other info such as email address, but the Toastmasters ID is more foolproof (it works even if the member has multiple email accounts or changes their email address).

If you didn’t capture the member’s Toastmasters ID when creating their account, the system will now let you enter it manually before attempting to sync member records.

Creating and Editing Pages and Blog Posts with the New WordPress Editor

These are updated instructions on how to create and edit the marketing content for your website using the WordPress editor.

These instructions are specific to the new Gutenberg editor, known as Gutenberg, which is active today on the Toastmost.org club websites hosted as part of the WordPress for Toastmasters project and will become standard across all WordPress sites with the release of WordPress 5.0.

Inserting a block

The idea behind Gutenberg is to organize documents around “blocks” of content and provide specialized editors for paragraph blocks versus heading blocks versus image blocks and so on.

WordPress for Toastmasters takes advantage of this approach in its new agenda editor, with special blocks for meeting roles. However, here I’m concentrating on the tools you will use to customize your home page and create blog posts that tell the story of what makes your club special.

How to Tweak the Time Allowed for Each Part of Your Meeting

WordPress for Toastmasters helps you plan the time allowed for speakers, Table Topics, and every other phase of your meeting. You can plan your standard meeting agenda around these time allowances, but you can also tweak the timing for an individual meeting.

Consider a couple of common scenarios:

  • Someone is giving an extended speech, which means you will not be able to fit as many other speeches into your agenda. So you change your agenda from 3 speeches and 3 evaluators to 2 and 2.
  • Your meeting is tomorrow, and you only have 2 speeches rather than the usual 3. So again, you want to change the number of speeches and evaluators. You will also allow extra time for Table Topics.

The video below shows a technique that requires you to be using the new agenda format (new as of late summer 2018). You make adjustments by going into Edit Signups mode, which means you can do it at the same time that you are recording other changes to your agenda for a specific week.

I also show how you can apply this tool to planning your standard agenda template.

Tweaking the Timing

Tutorial: Agenda Editor

This is the new agenda editor, introduced summer of 2018, which takes advantage of the new “Gutenberg” editor for WordPress.

Agenda Editor Tutorial

The new Gutenberg editor is active on all Toastmost.org club websites. It will become the default editor with WordPress 5.0 and meanwhile is available as a WordPress plugin. If you are running an independent website, outside of toastmost.org, you will need to install and activate that plugin to get access to the features shown here. Or wait for WordPress 5.0, which should be released soon.

If you previously created your agendas with the pre-Gutenberg editor (the “classic” editor), you should see a prompt to upgrade your meeting template on the WordPress dashboard. Click the Convert Now link for an automated conversion — then check whether you need to make any further adjustments before updating the specific meeting agendas based on your template.

Convert Templates Prompt

The Gutenberg editor is organized around “blocks” of content. Paragraphs, headings, images, and embedded media such as YouTube videos are all blocks. For meeting agendas, we have our own blocks.

The Agenda Role Block

Agenda Role Block
  • Role: choose one of the roles from the list or “custom” for a role that is unique to your club
  • Custom Role: Enter the label if this is a custom role. Otherwise, leave blank
  • Count: If more than one should appear on the agenda, set the number here. Example: 3 speakers
  • Time Allowed: The total time allowed for those who sign up for this role. For three speakers, you would set this to 21 at a minimum (3 7-minute speeches) but might want to go to 24 or 26 to allow for some longer speeches. If too many members sign up for long speeches that would exceed this limit, a warning will be shown. 
  • Padding Time: This was intended for use in combination with speech roles. In addition to the time allowed for speakers, you can build in another minute or two for introductions and set up between speeches.
  • Agenda Note: You can enter an additional explanatory note that will be displayed on your agenda, beneath the role.

Agenda Note

Agenda Note blocks

An Agenda Note is a block of text that appears only on the agenda, not on your signup form. It includes basic formatting controls. Each of these “stage directions” notes can also have time associated with it.

A few other Toastmasters block types are available to you, including Signup Note (appears only on the signup form, not on the agenda), Editable Note (can be changed for each meeting to show content such as meeting theme or word of the day), and Toastmasters Absences (adds a button on the signup form people can click to record that they expect to miss a meeting).