Zoom Meeting Timer App Worth Trying

A new option I recommend Toastmasters clubs meeting online consider for displaying timing signals is an app that displays the timing signals as an extra “participant” in Zoom meetings. The creator, Zoom Blue Sky Apps, has agreed to offer a 50% discount off the pro version pricing to Toastmasters clubs. Follow this promo link to try it for free and consider whether the deal makes sense for you.

Disclosure: BlueSky is giving my home club, Online Presenters, a freebie subscription as consideration for promoting their app. We tested it at OP earlier this week, and a representative of the company visited us.

BlueSky noticed I had some search engine traction on the phrase “Zoom timer” as a result of creating my the WP for Toastmasters web-based timer that you can share as a background image using something like OBS Studio. The beauty of their solution is it does not require any additional software.

Web-based control panel for the BlueSky timer

While I still like my own timer for the way it syncs with the agenda, the best of both worlds answer would be to find a way of integrating my software with BlueSky’s. They haven’t made me any promises, but maybe if the Toastmasters world shows enough interest?

At a minimum, I suggest you check out the free trial.

New Toastmost for Districts Offer

One of several Toastmasters-branded WordPress themes

Toastmost is introducing hosting for district websites and also talking to some districts about sponsoring websites for clubs in their district. Allowing Toastmost to handle some of the technical aspects of hosting a Toastmasters-branded WordPress site allows your district webmaster and PR team to focus on telling the story of what makes your district special.

Districts who choose to host their website with the Toastmost service get:

  • Access to WordPress themes (designs) that have been preapproved by Toastmasters International — with the opportunity to innovate within that design.
  • Configuration of the website to use the district’s own domain.
  • District-specific features, including support for hybrid online/offline business meetings, which will be enhanced over the coming year in collaboration with district leaders and their webmasters.
  • Events calendar with registration feature built into the website.
  • Support for online payments, including event fees.
  • Option to create accounts for area, division, and district officers, allowing them to publish content to the website or draft content for approval. You also get the option to publish content such as contact information to members-only pages that only someone who has been issued a password can access.
  • Access to features originally developed for club use, such as contest tools with digital ballots and vote counting.
  • Technical support for district webmasters.
  • Consultation with Toastmost creator David F. Carr, DTM, on digital strategy.

For details, write to Toastmost.org’s David F. Carr, DTM, or set up a Zoom meeting using https://calendly.com/davidfcarr/after-hours/

Terms and Pricing

  • 60-day trial for testing of unpublished websites.
  • $500 per year for hosting and technical support. Price is the same if you want to host the website independently (requiring me to work with a different technical infrastructure). District support will help Toastmost continue to offer low-cost club websites.
  • Starter template includes:
    • A district calendar, which with the option of registration links for specific events.
    • An “About us,” which a placeholder for historical information about the District and current leaderships/photos/contact information.
    • Specific email addresses which can be transferred from one leader to another in a different year (e.g., from one Area Director to the next). These can be hosted on the web server or configured to work with Google Workspace (subscription cost not included).
    • Email distribution lists.
    • Trio-only (Area Visit Reports), DEC-only (upcoming meeting agendas and minutes), and/or District Council access to documents, (e.g., proxies, committee reports, prior to the various meetings).
    • Awards/recognition pages for members, clubs, and the district itself.
    • Websites will be mocked up with placeholders for content that your district webmaster and district leaders can quickly fill in.

Districts may also choose to sponsor the cost of club websites, “buying in bulk” to make the service available free for clubs within the district.

The regular club rate is $50 per year for each club, following a 6-month free trial. Districts might consider encouraging clubs to sign up for the free trial. If enough clubs see the value and want to continue using the software, the district can negotiate a flat rate to allow access for all district clubs.

Package deal for the 2021-2022 Toastmasters year: If a district hosts its district website with Toastmost, an additional investment of $500 will allow as many district clubs as want to take advantage to get a free year of WordPress web hosting. Since the clock doesn’t start running until the end of their six months free, they would actually get access for at least 18 months (even if future district leaders don’t continue the relationship).

For details, write to Toastmost.org’s David F. Carr, DTM, or set up a Zoom meeting using https://calendly.com/davidfcarr/after-hours/

Toastmost Email Forwarding, Email Lists, and Automations

Club websites hosted on Toastmost.org get access to several services for managing email communication with officers and members, handling notifications from Toastmasters.org, and forwarding messages. A new addition, as of June 2021, is the ability to configure custom forwarders.

Club website administrators will find these options on the Toastmost menu, right under the Toastmasters menu (available to all members) and TM Administration for site editors and administrators. The Toastmost functions are specific to the hosted service and not included in the open source version of the software.

Toastmasters Meeting

Tuesday June 8, 2021 7:00 PM EDT

Welcome and Introductions

Toastmaster of the Day Open
Introduces supporting roles. Leads the meeting.
Ah Counter Open
Body Language Monitor Open
Grammarian Open
Humorist Open
Timer Open
Vote Counter Open
Topics Master Open
Speaker 1 Open
Speaker 2 Open
Speaker 3 Open
General Evaluator Open
Explains the importance of evaluations. Introduces Evaluators.
Evaluator 1 Open
Evaluator 2 Open
Evaluator 3 Open

Meeting Ends

Theme and Word of the Day

Planned Absences – Only displayed for logged in members of this site

RSVP deadline is past

Are You Ready for Your Toastmasters Club to Go Hybrid?

As part of a recent presentation on how to prepare to move to a hybrid club format for Toastmasters, I made a point of saying to think twice before taking the jump. You might want to try hybrid meetings as an experiment first before committing to officially becoming an hybrid club.

See below for a replay of the session, hosted by Positively Impacting Lives Toastmasters in South Florida, District 47.

A presentation at Positively Impacting Lives Toastmasters in South Florida

Many clubs will likely try the hybrid format as a transitional measure coming out of the pandemic, but that does not mean they have to or ought to commit to the hybrid format long term.

My concern is that clubs not stumble into hybrid club operations without thinking through the required equipment and logistical challenges — as well as non-technical issues like moving changing the club culture away from being a community club that identifies with a specific city to accepting visitors and members from anywhere.

While there are advantages to being able to cast a really wide net on a global basis, there are also tradeoffs like having to compete for members with every club in the world, versus just the one that meets on the other side of town. Some clubs will probably hit on a happy medium where they identify primarily as a club that meets at a given location but keep the online option as a way of retaining members who move away. Or perhaps they will attract members who may be distant but have an affinity for the people in the club or the expertise of its members.

All I’m saying is think it through carefully before you go redo your club charter paperwork. We do have an opportunity to experiment during this time when Toastmasters International has relaxed a lot of its rules out of necessity.

If you’re not really sure whether hybrid is the right way for your club to go long term, try it out a few times before you make a commitment.

Of course, if you do take the plunge, I’d urge you to get a more powerful website that offers a lot of support for online and hybrid club operations. But I’d tell you you need a better website if you stick to a traditional club format, too.

One Postcript to the Video

I purposely showed some expensive equipment options during my presentation to force club leaders to think how much they’re willing to spend. However, I should note that the wireless clip-on microphone I showed — while it comes highly recommended — is a top-of-the-line choice that was recommended by Moira O’Brien but is far from the only choice in that category. You could get a less expensive wired or wireless microphone, place it on a mic stand, and have all speakers come to the mic. There are lots of options, and you’ll have to experiment to see what works in your meeting room and with your available budget.

Related Resources

Hybrid Harmony,” by David F. Carr, DTM, Toastmasters Magazine, April 2021

Technology for Hybrid Meetings,” by Cajetan A. Barretto, DTM, Toastmasters Magazine May 2021

Markus Seppälä YouTube playlist of hybrid meeting tips

Markus Seppälä equipment recommendations

Don’t Get Overwhelmed by WordPress

To my sorrow, I often find that Toastmasters leaders who signed up to create a club website on Toastmost.org but didn’t publish it never got past the first few steps in the process. Although few have told me directly, my suspicion is that these would-be WordPress webmasters are overwhelmed by the number of choices available.

I’m writing this as a plea not to be overwhelmed, with some clues about how to keep the process manageable. Persevere, and you can create a website that dramatizes the value of your club and also helps you organize your meetings.

The point of creating a WordPress-powered site is that you get access to a lot of tools for digital marketing and recruiting, along with agenda management reimagined for this era of online and hybrid meetings. The tradeoff is that the software can serve lots of different purposes, and the number of menus and buttons you see on the administrator’s dashboard is scary for some people. (Regular members will see a much less complicated dashboard, with access to a few functions like updating their profile and password).

Here’s why you shouldn’t be afraid:

  • If you’re just getting started, take advantage of the website setup wizard, which tries to walk you through some basic choices for the setup of your agenda and whether you want to invite guests to register online to attend your meetings.
  • Take the time to customize your home page, telling the world what’s special about your club. The WordPress editor is essentially a web-based word processor — nothing to get overwhelmed about. Learn just enough about WordPress content blocks that you can elements like images and subheadings, in addition to paragraph text.
  • Activate few if any plugins. The extensibility of WordPress is one of its strengths, and Toastmost has a number of plugins necessary for operation of the service turned on by default. I’ve made many additional, optional plugins available, but turning on too many of them will slow down your website and can cause other problems. Use them judiciously.
  • Focus on the essentials. You don’t need to explore every menu option and setting. On Toastmost, I try to make sure accounts start out with reasonable defaults.
  • Most of the settings you might want to change will be on one of two Settings screens, the one for RSVPMaker and the one for Toastmasters. The Toastmasters Settings screen is where you would specify your officer list, for example, and allows you to designate additional site administrators.
  • To edit your standard agenda, go to the Events Templates submenu under RSVP Events. The individual events are listed under RSVP Events, but your regular meetings typically start out as copies of a template that defines your standard meeting format. Change the template, and you’ll be prompted to update all the events based on that template. (See this article).
  • Remember I’m here to help. Post questions to the Facebook group. Or write me with questions at david@wp4toastmasters.com. If I don’t respond promptly, email again and try text or WhatsApp to 954-290-6788.
  • I’m available to do Zoom tutorials, particularly if you invite other clubs in your district to join the session.

Yes, there is a lot to learn. Just keep in mind that WordPress is also a popular choice for business websites, so everything you learn on behalf of your Toastmasters club is something you can use later, professionally.

Bicycle image by Kevin Phillips from Pixabay

The Toastmost Upgrade Plan

The Toastmost service is about to get an upgrade.

Although the WordPress for Toastmasters is free and open source, most clubs that use it take advantage of the pre-configured hosting setup on Toastmost.org. I operate that service, inviting clubs to try it for free for six months, then pay for a subscription once they see the value.

Going forward, clubs hosted on Toastmost.org will be asked to invest $50 per year to cover increased costs (detailed below). If you have a current subscription, this will not go into effect prior to your renewal date (although early renewals and donations to the cause would be appreciated).

In the spirit of transparency, I’m sharing some financial details below.

Toastmost and WordPress for Toastmasters Finances

Toastmost and the WordPress for Toastmasters (the free open source software project) are volunteer initiatives led by me, David F. Carr, DTM, with support from other Toastmasters leaders.

I don’t expect to profit off this service and operate within some limitations by agreement with Toastmasters International, which doesn’t want me “profiting off the Toastmasters brand.” However, to remain healthy and growing, the service needs to be self-sustaining.

This past year, Toastmost reached break even, meaning that subscription fees approximately covered the costs of web hosting and related expenses. However, the service is operating at the limits of the current hosting setup, and I’ve been getting warnings about the need to upgrade as we come to the end of each month. The risk is that club websites could see performance degrade, and eventually there will be no choice but to upgrade.

The next level upgrade costs about double and is supposed to provide about 5X capacity. The minimum expenses I’m projecting for the coming year will rise from about $515 to $1,020 as a result. To leave some margin for error, plus the ability to make additional investments, I estimate I need to budget $1,500 to $2,000.

To get there, I’d like to at least double the number of participating clubs to 50+. To get 50 or more subscribers, Toastmost probably needs to attract 150 or more club leaders signing up for a 6-month trial account. The trial is important to give club leaders time to develop and test a website before committing to it. To attract that volume of trials means spending money on Facebook ads or other promotions to make Toastmasters leaders aware of this option.

Of course, you recommending Toastmost to other club leaders also makes a big difference — more than money can buy.

After online transaction fees, a $50 subscription payment yields about $48.25. Here’s what that looks like at different numbers of total subscribers.

Club SubscriptionsIncomeNotes
25$1,206.25Approximate break-even for upgraded hosting
30$1,447.50Enough to start paid promotion
40$1,930.00
50$2,412.50Funds additional promos, upgrades
60$2,895.00
70$3,377.50
80$3,860.00
90$4,342.50
100$4,825.00Would support another major upgrade

Write to david@wp4toastmasters.com you have suggestions on funding or can assist with other aspects of the project, such as improved documentation and training materials.

Get a Great Looking Club Website on Toastmost.org

New default designs for Toastmost.org websites

If you sign up for a new club website at Toastmost.org, it will be launched with the kind of dramatic presentation shown here — which you and your club webmaster can further enhance. You can have a great looking website in combination with innovative agenda management tools and features specifically designed to support online and hybrid clubs.

The design theme you see in the upper left of the image above (Twenty Nineteen TM) is the new default on Toastmost, but you can easily switch to one of the other supported themes.

All of the Toastmost.org themes have been reviewed for compliance with Toastmasters International brand guidelines, but each also provides you with a great deal of flexibility to make your site look the way you want it to. Some themes allow you to set a header image that appears throughout the site. The two shown above allow you to set a different featured image for each page.

To change the default featured image associated with your home page, go to the Featured Image section of the Page properties sidebar of the WordPress editor as shown here.

Option to change the Featured Image.

The Twenty Twenty TM theme makes similarly dramatic use of featured images but also allows you to display them with or without the “Cover Template” format where it covers the whole top of the screen. Here’s what it looks like with that feature turned off.

Twenty Twenty TM without cover template

Variety Within the Twenty Nineteen TM Theme

These sample home page designs were created using publicity photos from the Toastmasters International gallery of branded images. The exception is the first one on the list, which was created using an image obtained by searching Pixabay, the free public images repository, for “public speaking.”

As of May 2021, new club websites on Toastmost will get one of these images picked at random as a starting point. Club leaders are encouraged to change the default choice to one representing the character of their own club. This particular WordPress theme (design) shows featured images stylized with a blue filter, but here are some examples of how it looks with different featured images.

Changing the Theme

When logged in as administrator, you can change the design theme used by your website by clicking Customize on the black menu bar at the top of the screen, then choosing the Themes panel within the Customize tool.

With some of these themes, you would find Header Image as one of the options you can set to add a featured image to the top of the page. For example, as of this writing Digital Communicators uses the Twenty Seventeen TM theme in combination with a futuristic image of the earth from space pulled straight from a NASA image gallery.

Sign up at toastmost.org to see for yourself.

How to Register Guests on Your Website

The WordPress for Toastmasters software includes an event registration module you can use to sign up visitors and prospective members. You can capture their contact information, allowing an officer to reach out in advance of the meeting.

In addition, you can send visitors an automated confirmation message. That can include the Zoom link for online or hybrid meetings, the directions to your meeting location, or details about activities they will be invited to participate in (for example, if your club invites visitors to try Table Topics). You can test it for yourself by signing up for an account at toastmost.org, if you don’t already have one.

Here is the event invitation as it appears on the home page of Online Presenters. Online Presenters actively uses its website as a recruiting tool — and has grown into the largest of the online clubs.

As of early May 2021, adding that home page RSVP Now content block is one of the standard options offered in the setup wizard. In this post, I’ll cover how to activate this feature if it’s not already turned on. You will also learn how to customize the RSVP form and confirmation message.

Continue reading “How to Register Guests on Your Website”