WordPress for Toastmasters aims to be the best website solution for all Toastmasters clubs, but it can particularly serve the needs of online clubs — if you set it up right.
A few issues of particular concern to online clubs:
- Dealing with timezones
- Registering guests
- Sharing your online meeting link
Dealing with Timezones
Online club leaders need to get good at time travel, or at least chronological navigation.
A traditional Toastmasters club attracts members from the local community, all within the same timezone. An online club, or a club that allows online participation, has a potentially global audience. That means dealing with timezones and confusion over timezones.
Some online clubs deal with this by publishing their schedule according to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or an offset from GMT like GMT -5. Personally, I’m not great at timezone math beyond the bounds of the U.S., and I suspect others are worse.
Software to the rescue!
Here is how I would see that attending a hypothetical Hawaii-based online club that meets at 7 pm would mean staying up past midnight in my own frame of reference, on the East Coast of the U.S.
To get this effect, make sure the settings in RSVPMaker (the WordPress plugin for the online calendar) specify that the timezone should be displayed as part of your event listings. You can the time format to either 12-hour clock or 24-hour clock with timezone included (10:00 pm EST or 22:00 EST).
Then also check the checkboxes labeled:
- “Show Add to Google / Download to Outlook (iCal) icons”
- “Show timezone conversion button next to calendar icons.”
These checkboxes also appear in your meeting templates and should be checked there as well (whatever you specify in your event template becomes the default for all the events based on that template). And we always want to make it easy for people to figure out whether our meetings occur at a time they can attend.
There is also a checkbox in the settings for events and event templates labeled “Display timezone code as part of date/time.” You may not see it if you have that set as the default for your site. The intuseended use is for cases where displaying the timezone is the exception to the rule — for example, when a brick-and-mortar club is hosting an online event.
One other handy resource for helping people do timezone conversions is the dateandtime.com website. I share links to that site in some of my event promotions, but this RSVPMaker feature has the advantage of being built into the website.
In case it’s not obvious: You must have the correct timezone specified in WordPress for the server to announce the correct time. You do that in the General Settings page of the administrator’s dashboard.
My home club rarely uses the RSVP / registration feature of RSVPMaker, but my online club uses it every week to register guests.
Offline, we register guests by asking them to sign a guest book, after we’ve already gotten them in the door. Online, I find it helps a lot to have a list of the guests who may be attending ahead of time. So the website directs them to register if they would like to visit, and we send them the link to the online meeting as part of the confirmation message email.
If one of those guests becomes a member, there is a menu item under Users labeled RSVP List to Members that you can use to quickly create an account for them on the website.
Sharing Your Online Meeting Link
Getting people to attend your online meetings means getting them the link to whatever web conferencing service you use. Some clubs simply publish this on the home page, but as I mentioned I prefer that visitors register first before getting it. On the other hand, I want it to be readily available to members.
One of the ways we can do that is by including the link in the members-only view of the agenda displayed on the website and the version of the agenda we send out by email.
I can do that using “Agenda Note” widgets on the agenda template. Here’s the setup we use at Online Presenters, with the placeholder for the link at the very top of the agenda.
Agenda notes can be set to show up either on the agenda only, on the public view of the website only, or both. This one is set to show on the agenda only.
But it shows up in all versions of the agenda, such as the emailed agenda we use to remind members of upcoming meetings and prompt them to fill open roles.