Tools for Newsletters and Meeting Minutes

Club Presidents, Secretaries, and VPs of Education and Public Relations should be aware of a few tools bundled into WordPress for Toastmasters for sharing information with members. They have the advantage of allowing you to share information in a web-native format or in the body of email messages rather than sending out PDFs and other file attachments.

If you email me a PDF, I am less likely to read the contents than if the message you want to deliver is in the body of the email itself. Opening the PDF is an extra step, and I think of PDFs as electronic representations of print documents — worth using if you expect people to print the contents; otherwise not. But that’s admittedly a matter of taste.

The tools I suggest you take advantage of are:

  • RSVP Mailer, which allows you to create and edit the contents of an email message using the WordPress editor. Rather than being published on the website, these documents can then be sent out to your membership list or another email list (via MailChimp integration, for example).
  • Members Only blog posts that can be only be viewed by members who are logged into the website. This is one way of publishing an archive of meeting minutes but keeping those posts separate from blog posts that are part of your PR and marketing efforts. (I’ve also used the Members Only category can also be used for private sharing of speech videos).
  • The option to copy existing blog post or web page content to the RSVP Mailer tool and use it as the starting point for an email message.

RSVP Mailer is part of the RSVPMaker plugin, a component of the WordPress for Toastmasters software, and was originally designed for sending out event invitations.

The easiest way to explain how you might use RSVP Mailer is by example. Here’s a mockup of a club newsletter for Online Presenters, as it might be emailed out to club members:

an email newsletter

This is what it looked like in the WordPress editor, using the RSVP Mailer tab on the dashboard.

composing a message in the WordPress editor
Composing a message in the WordPress editor

When you publish and view one of these documents, it is displayed in an email preview template rather than the one for a blog post or web page.

Email preview
Preview with mailing list controls

As an authorized author or editor for this sort of content, you also see controls at the top of the email preview that allow you to pick a list of recipients and click Send Now. There is an option to send yourself a preview version of the email first, which is a good idea to make sure it comes through correctly.

Incorporating Blog Content in Email Messages

If you have content you want to publish content to both your blog and to your email list, one way to do that is to create the blog post first and copy that content into RSVP Mailer.

When you are logged in and have editing rights on the website, you will see a black bar across the top of the screen that shows administrative options. The New menu shows new content you can create, including new Post (blog post) and new RSVP Email. When you are viewing a blog post or web page, there is a submenu item under RSVP Email labeled Copy to Email.

Copy to Email option

Clicking Copy to Email duplicates the current page or post as an RSVP Mailer document and opens it in the editor. You can then make any adjustments that may be needed before sending it out as an email message.

In the case of meeting minutes, the process I suggest would be:

  • Create the meeting minutes as a blog post marked Members Only (see below for how to do that).
  • Copy that blog post to RSVP Mailer.
  • Send it out to the membership list.

For a newsletter, you could do the same but skip marking the content Members Only. Another approach would be to create blog posts on an ongoing basis and send out a monthly or quarterly newsletter that contains a list of headlines and links to the best of that content.

You can also mix and match these techniques. You might copy a blog post to RSVP Mailer but only email out a portion of the content, with a link to read the rest on the website. This is a technique I often use when sending out emails from wp4toastmasters.com.

Members Only Content

When you create a blog post, you have the option to assign it to one or more categories. Categories describe the nature of the content and allow visitors to see a listing of all posts in that category. For example, view any post in the Video category, and you can click on the Video link to see all other posts tagged with the Video category.

A special category that is automatically created for a WordPress for Toastmasters website is Members Only. Zny post marked Members Only can only be viewed by a logged in member of the website. Visitors who do not have a password will not see these posts in blog listings or search results.

The list of categories is displayed in the Document tab of the editor sidebar. You can check off any existing category and add others as needed.

Members Only
Marking a blog post Members Only

Members Only and Club News Sidebar Widgets

Although Members Only posts will not show up in your primary blog listing, headlines may be displayed in some recent blog post listings such as the standard Recent Posts sidebar widget. You can avoid advertising content that visitors without a login won’t be able to see by using the Members Only sidebar widget and the Club News sidebar widget (which displays published blogs NOT in the Members Only category).

The example here is from Club Awesome Toastmasters, where blogs that show member speech videos have been shared as Members Only posts.

Members only widget

As of summer 2020, new club websites created on toastmost.org have the Club News and Members Only widgets configured by default. A site administrator can also add them (and change other widgets on the sidebar) using the WordPress Customizer (basic tutorial here).

Widgets in the Customizer

Video Demo: Tool for Sharing Speech Videos and Online Meeting Replays

This demo video shows the technique I’ve developed over several years for sharing videos of member speeches on a regular basis and indexing them so it’s possible to look up all of a member’s speeches.

At my home club, Club Awesome, we upload speech videos from our weekly meetings to YouTube but mark them “unlisted” so they don’t appear publicly on youtube.com. They are recorded to our blog as “Members Only,” meaning you need a password to see them. This allows members to see them for their own education, without worrying that they will become unintentional YouTube stars.

We also share the videos by email.

The YouTube video sharing tool built into WordPress for Toastmasters helps you share this content in a consistent manner and tag the blog posts with the names of the speakers.

A club such as Online Presenters, an advanced club that routinely shares video recordings of its speeches publicly could skip using the “Members Only” feature but still organize recordings better using this feature. The speech video sharing tool has recently been upgraded to support the scenario where you’re posting one long video that includes multiple speeches, which is the easiest way of sharing recordings of meetings.

See also step-by-step instructions.

Automatically respond to “New prospective member for your club” emails

Whenever you get one of these emails, courtesy of the Find a Club tool on toastmasters.org —

— you can automatically reply with a message like this:

The Find a Club Autoresponder, a feature of the toastmost.org service, was developed for Online Presenters because of the large volume of these inquiries we were getting (a good problem to have). It’s now available for use by other clubs with websites on toastmost.org. If you want to use it on a site independent of toastmost.org, contact me for instructions.

For Online Presenters, the idea is to encourage people to come to our website where they can learn more about the club and register to attend as a guest. Although the club details page includes a “Visit This Website” link, it’s much less prominent than the Contact Club button that fires off an email. But whether we do it automatically or manually, the first thing we want to tell people who inquire that way is to visit the website.

Another club might respond with detailed contact information for the VP of Membership and directions to a meeting location, perhaps with a map or a picture of the venue included. You can craft your own custom response using the same tools you use to create a blog post.

Making it Work with Toastmasters.org Notifications

Toastmasters sends all email notifications to a single email address that you register in Club Central. Many clubs make sure these messages get to all the people who need to see them — the officers responsible for member recruiting, the education program etc., the treasurer, etc. — by making that one address forward to multiple email addresses.

Step 1: Forward to findaclub@toastmost.org

I can provide toastmost.org forwarding addresses on request. Or you may find it’s simpler to set up forwarding from a GMail account. For the autoresponse feature to work, one of the destination forwarding addresses must be findaclub@toastmost.org.

The toastmost.org software recognizes messages coming from the Find a Club service and ignores any other incoming messages it receives.

Step 2: Register the Address Messages will Come From

On the administrator’s dashboard, the setup screen for this feature appears under RSVP Mailer (a bundle of email utilities included with RSVPMaker).

You need to enter the email address you have registered in Club Central, the one from which messages will be forwarded to findaclub@toastmost.org. That’s how the software knows those messages are associated with your club and not some other club.

Step 3: Create the Automated Response Message

On initial setup, you will be prompted to create a new message to be sent out as an automated response. Thereafter you can return to this screen at any time to revise that message. The title you enter into WordPress becomes the subject line of the email, and the body of the post becomes the body of the message.

Step 4: Verify That It’s Working

When this function is working correctly, you will see a notification that an autoreply has been sent a few minutes after that “prospective member” email comes in from Toastmasters.org.

Video demo: Tools for doing business online from WordPress for Toastmasters

Here’s a peek at the assortment of tools we’ve used at Online Presenters Toastmasters to market our club, enroll members, and manage the agenda.

Key points:

  • Blogging tools allow you to show off everything that makes your club special.
  • Built-in event registration allows you to sign up guests and keep track of them.
  • A web-based application simplifies the process of enrolling new members.
  • The interactive signup form helps you fill your agenda.
  • Recording evaluations in a web-based form is simpler than emailing PDFs back and forth.
  • Meeting organizers get tools for inviting members to sign up for roles and following up with those who have committed to a role (or might need to be drafted to fill one).

Tracking Attendance and Keeping Accurate Records

Club leaders can see who the active members are in their club by consulting the Attendance Report, found under the Reports Dashboard within the member dashboard. If you update and reconcile member activity records after each meeting, you can improve the accuracy of this report and others that, for example, track member speeches.

Attendance Report

In this example, I’ve filtered the records for Online Presenters Toastmasters to activity since January 2020.

However, the data will be incomplete unless someone takes responsibility for making it complete. The system records anyone who held a meeting role as having been in attendance. However, that data will only be accurate if you account for people who promised to fill roles but didn’t show up, as well as the people who stepped up to fill roles at the last minute. We should also account for people who attended but didn’t take a role.

You can make these corrections on the Update History page (accessible to those with the user role of Manager or Administrator, typically assigned to club officers) under TM Administration.

Update History screen

After you have made corrections to who held which roles, you can check off the names of any other members who were in attendance down the bottom of this form.

Click Submit to record those updates.

Video Demo: Organize and Change Your Agenda and the Time for Each Activity

The latest update to the WordPress for Toastmasters agenda editing tools makes it easier to reorder roles and adjust the timing for each activity, making every meeting better organized.

The video demo goes step-by-step through the process of setting up your standard meeting template. I also show how you can restructure a particular week’s meeting, for example to turn it into a speechathon with double the usual number of speaking roles.

A couple of recent changes are a more compact display of agenda roles in the editor, with controls for the time allowed for each activity moved to the sidebar on the right. Among other things, that makes it easier to reorder things on the agenda. You can move elements up and down using the up and down arrows to the left of each content block.

A new Timing Preview also allows you to see the effect of your changes as you plan your meeting.

One limitation: the Timing Summary doesn’t show the effect of adding or deleting an activity until you save your work and reload the page.

New Version of Online Speech Timer for Zoom Meetings

Update May 26, 2020: The Online Timer tool was briefly unavailable on toastmost.org because the web host I work with said it was putting excessive strain on the server. It’s now back in business with a new design that doesn’t generate as many network and database requests.


After several tries, I’ve created an online speech timer that works well with Zoom meetings and has some advantages over the common technique of showing timing colors with the Zoom virtual background feature.

You might want to use both methods to make sure the speaker sees timing lights. But for large meetings where it can be difficult for the speaker to keep track of the thumbnail image of the person doing timing, this could work better.

Here is a video demo.

This screen displays in 3 modes: Normal (the view you want as a speaker), Self Timer, and Timer (the person showing timing lights to others). In Timer view, the green, yellow, and red lights are broadcast to viewers in Normal mode. If the timer for a meeting is not using this tool, you might consider taking advantage of the Self Timer view.

Continue reading “New Version of Online Speech Timer for Zoom Meetings”

Free Online Meeting Option (Jitsi) with Integrated Speech Timer

Those Toastmasters clubs who want to meet online but don’t want to pay for a Zoom account have another option, the Jitsi open source software offered as a free service by the online telecom company 8×8. Jitsi works best with the Google Chrome browser or the latest version of Microsoft Edge. Because it is web-based, we can use embed it in a web page that includes an online timer app. Using the online timer means the speaker doesn’t have to worry about keeping track of the thumbnail image of the timer because the page background changes color to function as the “timing lights.”

For instructions on using the same timer tool with Zoom, see this post.

You can use this demo without a password to see the timer’s experience with Jitsi.

It’s also possible to embed the web-based version of Zoom within this frame, but so far I haven’t gotten that working as well. The Zoom web client also has some limitations, which lead me to think it may be better to use the approach I’ve described for using the regular Zoom client in conjunction with this feature (which involves some resizing of windows).

Jitsi does not include all the same features as Zoom, but I found a few (like how it handled muting of people other than the main speaker) that I liked better. Certainly worth experimenting with, particularly for clubs with constrained budgets. You will see an ad for 8×8 every time you end a meeting, but that’s a small price to pay. I don’t think a Toastmasters club would need to pay for the upgrades they offer, although you might consider 8×8 for business use.

Replay: Getting Started with WordPress for Toastmasters Webinar, May 3, 2020

This is the replay of a webinar covering the basics you need to understand to customize your home page, set up your meeting agenda, and begin using WordPress for Toastmasters productively. Conducted with help from Stephanie Nolan, who is helping organize a volunteer project to improve the documentation and training materials.

webinar replay

The first portion of the video was recorded after the fact for the simple reason that I forgot to turn on the Zoom recording function when the meeting started. You’ll see that partway through the opening presentation my webcam picture appears in the corner of the screen and the audio quality changes.

Read on for shorter video clips and screen shots covering the highlights.

Continue reading “Replay: Getting Started with WordPress for Toastmasters Webinar, May 3, 2020”