recording a speech

How to Routinely Record and Share Toastmasters Speech Videos

Toastmasters World Champions and other top speakers will tell you one of the best ways to improve is to record your speeches, watch them, and make adjustments so that you keep getting laughs where you want them and driving your points home more clearly. Watching yourself on video is just as valuable, maybe even more so, for beginning speakers trying to gain control over their body language and their ums and ahs.

One of my biggest contributions to my home club, Club Awesome, has been to make video recording of speeches a routine part of our program. We have videographer as a regular meeting role, and the person serving in it makes a brief speech about the purpose or the recordings (educational first and foremost) and how to opt out if you do not want to be recorded. Because this is now an established part of our club culture, something that guests see when they first visit us, we rarely have anyone opt out.

We publish the videos on YouTube, but tag them as “unlisted” so they don’t show up for strangers browsing or searching the site. We only make them public with the speaker’s permission — usually, if they’re really good and we want to share them as part of our web and social media marketing. But speakers can easily share the videos with family members, even without making them fully public. 

One important part of this program has been coming up with a streamlined process for uploading and sharing the videos, which is the focus of my own video tutorial above.

It helps that these days every smartphone is a powerful video recording device. I’m currently using my old phone, with the cell phone plan inactive, and taking advantage of the WiFi available at our meeting location to start uploading the videos before I even leave the meeting room.

I then take of a tool built into WordPress for Toastmasters (newly updated with the latest release) to publish the videos in two ways:

  • In blog posts marked members-only (meaning you have to be logged in to see them).
  • In an email broadcast that goes out to members. The RSVPMaker plugin for WordPress, which is part of the WordPress for Toastmasters solution, includes an integrated mailing utility.

I’ve set up the software to make it easy to pull in a listing of recent speeches with all the detail that was included on the meeting agenda (such as speech title and project) and associate those with YouTube links.

Here are my tips for recording the video:

  • Focus the camera on the person speaking, not their slides (if any). The image the camera captures of slides projected on a screen is not likely to be great. In the few cases where it’s important for the projected images to be shown to the video viewing audience, I’ve spliced them in later. That may be a topic for a future tutorial.
  • If you’re using a smartphone or any equipment that is short of a professional setup, positioning the camera as close as practical to the speaker is important for quality audio. Audio is one of the most important elements of any video, but particularly a speech video where you want to be able to hear the speaker clearly. If you’re recording something like a contest, you’ll need a front row seat.
  • Fortunately, smartphone audio pickup and audio processing to pick up voices has gotten pretty good.
  • A directional microphone could be one way of improving audio quality if you can’t be close to the speaker. Or if there is a sound system and you can either get a feed from the sound system or a recording that you can sync later with the audio track, that might be better yet. I’ve never gotten that fancy.
  • When recording contests with a smartphone, I’ve occasionally gotten critiqued by people with more professional video experience about the quality of those productions, particularly the audio. If the critics would volunteer to do the job and do it better, I’d be happy to let them. But in the absence of professional quality video equipment and skills, I still think it’s better to record the speeches — and do the best you can, with the equipment you have available — than to deprive the speakers of the chance of having their videos recorded. Particularly at the district level, where the speakers are serious competitors, the speakers are happy to have access to the recording whether they are celebrating a victory or plotting how they will do better next time.
  • To create a public blog post featuring a video, rather than one of these routine members-only posts, just copy and paste the web address for any YouTube video into the WordPress editor. WordPress automatically generates all the code to embed your video in any blog post or web page. This copy-and-paste technique also works with public videos from Facebook and other media sites.
  • When trying to reach viewers on Facebook, it’s possible to post the YouTube link and invite viewers to click through. However, for maximum impact — particularly if you are posting speech videos publicly (with the speaker’s permission) — you should upload them directly to Facebook. Facebook will display videos uploaded to its own platform more prominently, and viewers can watch them without leaving Facebook. In fact, Facebook contacts will see the videos start playing (without sound), and motion tends to catch people’s attention.
  • Another great way of creating online video is with Facebook Live, if you can get the speaker’s permission in advance. My home club will periodically announce that we’re doing Table Topics on Facebook Live, for example, and let members know they have the option of declining to participate. I’ve also suggested Facebook Live as a great way of publicizing the Table Topics and Humorous Speaking contests.
  • Posting club speech videos from your smartphone to a closed group on Facebook would be an alternative for sharing them online, but within a limited circle. The point is not to make anyone famous online before  they’re ready to be a video star.
  • I always volunteer that I can “destroy the evidence” if a speaker is embarrassed by what was captured on video. We want to make clear that this is a service we offer to members, not something they’re obligated to agree to.

P.S. After seeing this tutorial video, a friend who had been recording a series of Facebook Live videos asked if there was a way of cross-posting them to YouTube.

Answer: Sure, you can download your videos from Facebook, then upload them to YouTube or any other video service.

You can download Facebook videos by going to the corner of the video and clicking on the 3 dots … then choosing Download Video.

From there, you can edit if necessary and then upload to YouTube.

Toastmasters content blocks for WordPress

The New Agenda Editor

The new, improved WordPress for Toastmasters agenda editor takes advantage of an upgrade in the editor the underlying WordPress platform uses for creating and editing blog posts and website pages. Code named Gutenberg, this new editor will become the standard editing experience with the release of WordPress 5.0 (coming soon). Happily, it turns out to be a great way of handling a variety of content types, including agenda role signup widgets.

As a technology preview, the developers behind WordPress have made the Gutenberg editor available as a plugin — which I’ve made active as the editor for posts and pages on toastmost.org. If you run an independent WordPress site, you can add the Gutenberg plugin yourself.

After activating Gutenberg, you need to take a couple of additional steps to convert your agenda templates and begin using the new agenda editor. Here’s what that looks like:

Activating the new agenda editor

The Gutenberg editor is built around the idea that different blocks of content require different controls. If you’re writing a blog post, you can still go to Posts -> Add New and just start writing. When you enter a regular paragraph block, the controls that appear in the sidebar to the right are text formatting controls (to change the font size, for example). If you start entering bullets, that becomes a list block — with controls specific for formatting bullets or changing a bullet list to a numbered list. Paste in a YouTube link, and WordPress automatically creates an embedded media block and provides a space where you can caption the video.

Gutenberg formatting controls for a paragraph.

This framework allows me to define the signup page and agenda widgets as just another type of content block. As shown in the video, you click on the + button to reveal a listing of all the block types and then enter a search term to narrow down the list. Start typing “Toastmasters,” and you’ll see all the Toastmasters agenda widgets.

The current list is:

  • Toastmasters Agenda Role – placeholder for an signup widget / agenda display of that role. Choose from a standard list of roles or add custom roles that may exist in your club. Set the number of occurrences of that role (example: 3 speakers, 3 evaluators) and the time you’re reserving on the agenda.
  • Toastmasters Agenda Note – enter text that will appear only on the agenda. In the case of “stage directions” text, you can also reserve a block of time associated with that activity (Example: 5-minute break).
  • Toastmasters Signup Form Note – Text that will appear only on the signup form, not on the agenda.
  • Toastmasters Editable Note – A note that changes from meeting to meeting, such as a theme or word of the day. Can be edited on the front end of the site by a meeting organizer (who might not otherwise have editing rights).
  • Toastmasters Absences – Allows members to let the rest of the group know when they will not be able to attend.

You can also include regular paragraphs and images in the body of your event post, and that content will then be visible in all contexts — including both the signup form and on the agenda.

One other important concept to understand is the difference between an individual event post and an event template (which I sometimes refer to as an agenda template because that’s how it’s used for Toastmasters meetings).

The template is where you lay out the standard organization of your meetings. For example, my home club goes from self-introductions, to the Toastmaster of the Day introducing all the roles, the Table Topics, a Humorist, then a 5-minute break, 3 speeches, and 3 evaluators. I’ve spent time fine tuning that standard meeting organization in the template. If I add something — for example, an Agenda Note saying we do an Educational Minute from the VPE at the beginning — I can then update all the events based on that template to include that new instruction.

I can also add future events, months in advance. They are all copies of the template, but because they are dynamic documents they become different over time as members sign up for roles and interact in other ways.

I can also modify the list of roles and other event details independently. For example, I might want to have a meeting with 2 speeches rather than 3 to give members a chance to do longer speech projects, or do an all-Table Topics meeting, or reorganize the agenda around a club contest.

That’s one reason that updating future dates is a separate step — individual events don’t automatically update when you change the template. Instead, you’ll see a list of checkboxes representing future event posts associated with the template. If individual event posts have been modified independently of the template, you should see a warning that you risk overwriting changes. You would uncheck that to avoid overwriting your contest agenda, for example.

I think the new agenda editor is going to be a big improvement. It is new, so there may be bugs.

The Gutenberg plugin is also essentially a preview / beta release of the WordPress 5.0 editor and is still being debugged. One error I’ve seen repeatedly is “Updating failed” at the top of the screen, and sometimes I’ll see it several times before I get the happier “Post published” confirmation. Often, it turns out that the information actually has been saved, but the confirmation isn’t coming through for some reason.

That said, I think you’ll find this new agenda editor system much easier to work with. Previously, I had managed to add some buttons to the “classic” WordPress editor and make it possible to click on placeholder images for roles and agenda notes — but honestly, it was kind of a hack. It’s much easier to see how I will be able to continue to add improvements with this new setup.

Let me know what you think of it!

How WordPress For Toastmasters Pays Off For Your Club

At the conclusion of a recent Toastmasters TLI training presentation, a friend walked up to me and asked, “So in a sentence or two, why should a club choose WordPress over Free Toast Host?”

You mean I didn’t manage to to make that point in 30 minutes onstage?

The problem with my friend’s question is the answer is so obvious to me I sometimes forget to articulate it. Free Toast Host is another name for the toastmastersclubs.org service where most clubs host their websites. It’s supported by Toastmasters International, but you’re not required to use it. The comparable WordPress-based service is toastmost.org, where you can get a free (sponsor supported) website with my WordPress extensions and a design that conforms to Toastmasters International branding rules.

The strength and the weakness of Free Toast Host is that it’s specific to Toastmasters — it makes it easy to set up a cookie-cutter website where you can advertise the basic details about your club, but going beyond the basics is harder. When my club website was hosted there, I remember finding that just adding a new page to the site to promote a special event was awkward.

If you’re logged into WordPress and have been granted editing rights, that’s as easy as clicking the “New” button at the top of the page.

New item menu
If you have editing rights, adding a post or page is as easy as clicking on “New.”

With WordPress, you take advantage of a professional grade web publishing solution that’s used by major publications like the New Yorker, as well as countless marketing organizations and corporate websites. You leverage the combined efforts of thousands of developers in an open source software community who are forever improving the platform’s ease of use, user experience, and ability to take advantage of new web and social media technologies.

Organizing an open house? Post a blog to your website and share that blog on social media. Member won a contest? Get that speech video on YouTube (with the speaker’s permission), and WordPress makes it easy to embed video in any blog post or web page.

Here is some of what I’ve written in the past about what you can do to make your website a more effective marketing tool:

All of the above speaks to the advantages of WordPress as opposed to WordPress for Toastmasters. My contribution is to lead a free, open source software project to extend WordPress with Toastmasters-specific features like agenda management. You can get it through toastmost.org or install it on any web hosting service that supports WordPress.

I take advantage of the foundational technologies of WordPress, such as its system for creating and managing user accounts and assigning access rights, and make them serve the purposes of a Toastmasters club. So a meeting agenda is not just a document (like a blog post) but allows members to log in, sign up for roles, and add the details for their speech projects. As a site administrator, you can decide whether to allow all members to edit the role signups for a meeting agenda or whether that capability should be restricted to officers.

That software is not perfect, and I welcome contributions from developers and designers — as well as feedback from all users — on how to make it better.

Yet this combination has done well for my clubs and others around the world who have tried it. Our meetings are better organized, and guests often coming through the door saying, I looked at the websites of a few other clubs, but yours seemed to have the most going on.

“Online Tools to Market Your Club & Organize Meetings” – Video and Notes from the Broward TLI, July 2018

Below are some notes to accompany a presentation to the Toastmasters Leadership Institute training in Broward County, Florida. See also How WordPress For Toastmasters Pays Off For Your Club.

You can watch the actual presentation here:

We had an overflow crowd in the room, and the presentation was well received — although a friend told me I still need a clearer “elevator pitch” explanation of the case for moving your club website to WordPress.

Here’s the central argument: as a marketing tool, WordPress benefits from input from a critical mass of web developers, including some from publications like the New Yorker and major marketing organizations. For flexibility and user engagement, it will always beat Free Toast Host, a web publishing platform used only by Toastmasters. To me, Free Toast Host is a good tool for cranking out cookie-cutter club websites, but if you want access to rich tools you can use to show the personality of your club, WordPress is the better choice.

The agenda management tools I’ve built on top of WordPress take advantage of some of the strengths of the core platform. As a student of digital business (which I have been studying since I was an editor at Internet World magazine in the 1990s), I’ve done my best to make it an engaging, productive online experience — one you can get access to for free.

Notes

Documentation of the WordPress for Toastmasters software is organized on the How-To page.

Free club website service

My philosophy about what makes a good club website (from a few years ago)

My club websites:

Follow up blog posts (with updated info):

Questions? david@wp4toastmasters.com

Support for Exporting, Erasing Personal Data (GDPR Compliance)

WordPress for Toastmasters now allows individuals to download a copy of their personal data or request that it be erased, in keeping with the provisions of GDPR.

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is part of a broader trend toward giving individuals more control over how their data is secured and managed. WordPress 4.9.6 includes utilities for exporting and erasing user data on demand.

The WordPress for Toastmasters extensions piggyback on those features, so that data downloads include the additional member profile fields added to user records, as well as Toastmasters activity records such as lists of speeches. If you use the RSVPMaker event registration feature, see also the related post on RSVPMaker.com.

personal data export
Personal data export for demo user Abraham Lincoln

This data can also be erased, on demand.

In both cases, data will be retrieved or deleted based on a search for the user’s email address and all associated records. The website will send an automated email asking the user to confirm that request.

Adding a Privacy Policy

If you are running an independent WordPress site, you will see prompts suggesting you add a privacy policy to your website as soon as you update to version 4.9.6 or later. WordPress will suggest some default wording. You may also wish to consult my version from toastmost.org for wording specific to the RSVPMaker and RSVPMaker for Toastmasters plugins.

For club websites published on toastmost.org, a link to a master privacy policy now appears in the club website footer. Clubs may wish to add their own club privacy policy, particularly if they collect member or website visitor data using plugins other than RSVPMaker and RSVPMaker for Toastmasters.

Testimonial: Paul Finkelstein of Competitive Communicators

THANK YOU TOASTMOST! More about our online club which uses TOASTMOST since chartering back in July 2017. We achieved the SMEDLEY RIBBON, the FOUNDERS RIBBON and the PRESIDENTS DISTINGUISHED RIBBON and could NOT have done it without TOASTMOST! THANK YOU SOOOOOO MUCH DAVID!!

Our club: http://www.CompetitiveCommunicators.com

Where you compete with yourself! Cheers!!

Best Regards,
Paul Finkelstein
Club President ACG ALB Going DTM very soon! http://www.CompetitiveCommunicators.com

Premier Sponsorship: 3 Months for $300 (Limited Time Offer)

Update: We just got secured our premier sponsor, so this “limited time offer” is now off the market. We’re still looking for other sponsors and supporters if you’d like to purchase a sidebar ad or make a donation to the cause. The exclusive bundled promotion offer will reopen in a few months.

Help keep the club websites associated with the WordPress for Toastmasters project free by advertising on the toastmost.org network.

For a limited time, you can sign up to be the exclusive sponsor of the project for USD $300, with your promotions displayed across the club website network, and I will also work with you to develop a webinar promoting your product or service. (Eventually, this bundle will be limited to sponsors who make a one-year commitment at a higher price point).

This is your opportunity to reach a global audience of innovative Toastmasters who interact with the club website not just as a marketing tool but as an integral part of how members sign up for roles and leaders organize their meetings.

sidebar ad
Basic sidebar ad

The premier sponsor bundle includes:

  • A sidebar ad (as shown above)
  • A second promotional ad slot that appears at the bottom of every page.
  • An ad included with the version of the agenda that is sent out by email (an important tool club leaders use to fill open speaking slots and other roles)
  • An ad included on the administrator’s dashboard. This could appear in the self-hosted versions as well (where the open source software is installed on a site other than toastmasters.org). Probably would only be shown once per login, so as not to interfere with functional use of the site.
  • A webinar hosted by me showcasing your product.
  • Acknowledgement in WordPress for Toastmasters events, online or off, such as tutorial webinars.

Write to david@wp4toastmasters.com if you are interested in this offer. I reserve the right to refuse ads that would be inappropriate for the Toastmasters audience.

Here is a series of mockups I created, featuring the SpeakerMatch service as a (hypothetical) example.

gold sponsor
Ad placement at the bottom of the page
sponsor email promo
Ad placement in an agenda email
admin dashboard ad
Sponsor ad placement on admin dashboard

Write to david@wp4toastmasters.com to discuss this offer. The goal of this program is to make the free club websites financially self-sustaining. If you would be more comfortable sponsoring a non-profit, talk with me about how we might work together to create a foundation to support the WordPress for Toastmasters project.

Growth Stats for WordPress for Toastmasters and Toastmost.org

Here is a progress report on the growth of the WordPress for Toastmasters project, compiled partly so potential sponsors will consider what a great opportunity they have to connect with a growing community of innovative speakers and leaders.

The most telling statistic is the growth in users on toastmost.org. That’s the “software as a service in the cloud” version that is the easiest way for a club to get access. As of May 2018, there are almost 2000 user accounts registered for club members.

user accounts
Toastmost.org user accounts

It’s also possible to set up an independent WordPress website with the same software. Since I released the software as open source on WordPress.org in late 2015, the plugin has been downloaded 2,246 times. However, I think that includes downloads of updated versions.

The Lectern theme, which makes it easy to add Toastmasters approved branding to a WordPress site, is active on more than 1000 websites.

On toastmost.org, the Toastmasters plugin and theme come pre-installed. You just register for the email list and fill out a form to get yourself an administrator’s account for a new club website.

Here’s the growth in the number of sites on toastmost.org:

Toastmost.org sites created

This includes some inactive sites that members are still testing, but not the inactive sites that I purged from the web server under the “use it or lose it” policy I enforce for these sites. If you go many months without either making a site public or contacting me to help you over the hump, it will be archived and eventually deleted.

We’re at about 45 public websites as of today. Some of those sites are being used strictly for marketing. What interests me more is the number of sites actively using the agenda management tools I provide. The chart below tracks the number of signups for speeches and roles using the WordPress for Toastmasters software.

member activity
Member activity (interaction with the online agenda)

I’ve had trouble getting accurate traffic numbers for the network of toastmost.org sites, but here is what I see here on wp4toastmasters.com — an indication of interest in the platform and people coming to look up the documentation and the articles I’ve published on things like effective use of web and social media marketing for your club. Note the big spike around July 2017, presumably reflecting interest from incoming club officers in upgrading their websites. I hope to top that this year.

Stats for this website.

Online Voting, Vote Counting for Toastmasters Contests

As part of the planning for a mini-webinar contest at Online Presenters Toastmasters, I cooked up a tool for online voting intended to help both the judges and the Chief Judge / Ballot Counter team compile the results very quickly. This should be of particular interest to clubs that meet online or allow members to attend online. I can see potential for it to be used in a traditional club (or area/division/district) contest as well.

The software is bundled with the latest release of the WordPress for Toastmasters solution, but I’ve also made a version of it available independently (see below).

As the judges are voting, contest organizers can watch the votes roll in on a dashboard that updates every few seconds until everyone has voted:

scoring dashboard
What you see when all judges have voted.

Here’s a video demo of the voting process:

Having some sort of online voting tool strikes me as essential for an online club, where working with the printed ballot forms is awkward. A certain amount of scanning in and emailing forms for speaker and judge eligibility may still be necessary, particularly for an official contest, such as the Video Speech Contest that Toastmasters International makes available to online clubs and other undistricted clubs. But doing that with the actual ballots seems crazy, when all the judges are sitting in front of a computer and can easily enter their votes into an online system.

With online voting, we can let the computer do the math for tallying up the judge’s scores for each contestant and producing a final ranking when all judges have voted.

Online Presenters is piloted this with an unofficial webinar contest. This allowed our Chief Judge to focus on verifying that the computer-generated results are correct. He also provided the judges with alternate ways of contacting him to register their votes if the computerized system should fail.

If you’re using the dashboard in combination with a WordPress for Toastmasters event agenda, you will find a link to the Contest Scoring Dashboard under the agenda menu.

contest menu
Item on the Agenda menu

The setup process goes like this:

  1. Choose the contest you’re going to be running. Pick from the list of standard contests or define your own unofficial contest, as we did with our webinar event.
  2. Either enter a list of contestants or pick a role from the agenda to track as people sign up, so your contestants link will be in sync.
  3. Enter a list of judges and designate one as the Tiebreaking Judge.
  4. Optionally, add a list of members (other than the website editors and administrator) who should have access to the main contest dashboard. For example, your chief judge and ballot counter for the event.
  5. Set the speaking order, either manually or by allowing the software to automatically shuffle the list of contestants.
  6. Prior to the start of the contest, send each judge and his or her personalized link for the online ballot. Also send the link for the Timer, if you will be using the online timing setup.

Since not everyone uses WordPress for Toastmasters, I’ve provided an alternate way you can get access to this tool independently.

Create Contest Page


Give your page a name, such as Area Contest or Video Speech Contest

A few other notes:

  • The requirement to sign your ballot: In an official contest where you want to eliminate any question about whether the online votes are legitimate, I suggest having the judges fill out and sign the paper ballot also, take a picture with their phone and email or otherwise send it to the ballot counter (who can then verify it matches what was submitted online). Or get a ruling from some authority that the online checkbox can be counted as a signature.
  • Use outside of online clubs: In a club that does not meet exclusively online, you might still allow some judges to participate from a remote location via teleconference and vote this way. If only a minority of judges are participating this way, you might not use the software to tally the final result.
  • In person voting on laptops or tablets: For the past few years, I’ve used a Google Sheets spreadsheet on my iPad to tally my scores when acting as a judge, even though I had to record my final vote on a piece of paper. Some contest organizers might choose to encourage use of this system even by judges voting in person. You’ll have to consider whether that makes the identity of the judges too obvious (they’re the ones with the tablets).