Jetpack: The Swiss Army Knife Plugin for Your Website

Of all the WordPress plugins you might consider using, beyond those required for a WordPress for Toastmasters setup, Jetpack should be on your short list. It’s active on every Toastmost.org website but requires some additional configuration.

Useful features of Jetpack:

  • Social media sharing buttons
  • A contact form
  • A basic site stats utility for monitoring traffic to your website
  • Additional content formatting blocks and sidebar widgets
  • Enhanced photo galleries and sliders

The Jetpack plugin is made by Automattic, the primary corporate backer of the open source WordPress.org project and the operator of WordPress.com. It allows independent Websites to take advantage of services from the WordPress.com network — including some that Automattic charges for. For a Toastmasters club website, I recommend you stick to the free features.

When you activate Jetpack, you will be prompted to connect to or create a WordPress.com account. Expect to see lots of prompts encouraging you to sign up for a paid subscription to the Jetpack service. Instead, I encourage you to sign up for the basic plan.

Jetpack setup screen
Jetpack setup

Once you have made the connection, you will be able to turn on various Jetpack features. For example, in the screenshot below, I’ve turned on the display of social sharing buttons but chosen not to use the feature that automatically shares new blog posts on social media.

Jetpack options screenshot
Configuring Jetpack options

The Site Stats feature is a nice way of seeing whether content to your site is growing and which pages or posts are attracting traffic. For example, this snapshot for Online Presenters Toastmasters shows that my article on launching screen sharing more smoothly in Zoom is attracting interest, even though it’s more than a year old.

Jetpack traffic stats screenshot
JetPack Site Stats

Deciding what to turn on is a matter of taste, and I’m not going to attempt to explain all the many options, but here are a few resources:

Video: Change the Look of Your Club Website

I had been looking for an excuse to show off the new WordPress themes available to Toastmasters clubs when a last-minute speech slot opened up at Online Presenters Toastmasters, the club I led to charter in 2017.

Here’s the presentation, introduced by my friend Jim Barber.

New WordPress Themes Demo

For more documentation on these design choices, see 5 New Toastmasters-branded WordPress Website Designs.

And while I’ve got you …

I’m also available to consult on business websites, with professional speaker websites as one specialty (see lindamariemiller.com for my work with this year’s second place winner from the World Championship of Public Speaking).

David F. Carr, WordPress for Toastmasters project
Book a meeting with me: 30 minutes / 60 minutes

5 New Toastmasters-branded WordPress Website Designs

Five new design choices are now available to users of the Toastmost.org website hosting service associated with the WordPress for Toastmasters project. See also: video demo of how to change your website theme.

Like Lectern, which remains the default on Toastmost, these themes have been reviewed by Toastmasters International for conformance with the official brand guidelines and inclusion of the required disclaimers and intellectual property credits.

Toastmasters club website design choices
Toastmasters-branded website designs.

Lectern may still be the simplest choice for a club webmaster who doesn’t want to have to futz too much with the design. On the other hand, some ambitious webmasters have asked for more design freedom, and these choices should help. You get more freedom to customize, but please note that you are responsible for making sure your customizations respect the Toastmasters International branding rules (more on that below).

In WordPress, your choice of a theme — a set of templates for your home page, blog posts, and other content — is a basic choice that determines how your website will look. These new choices are “child themes” or variations on popular themes, including the reference designs the developers behind WordPress featured for 2016, 2017, and 2019, and 2020.

Continue reading “5 New Toastmasters-branded WordPress Website Designs”

Use Your Own Domain with Toastmost Club Website Hosting

Toastmasters club website domain

The Toastmost club website hosting service associated with the WordPress for Toastmasters is looking for clubs to test a new option, which allows you to use your own web domain (myclub.com) as opposed to a subdomain of toastmost.org (myclub.toastmost.org). Among other things, your club may gain a branding advantage by having a simpler domain consistent with the name of your club.

Because adding your domain to a Toastmost-hosted site requires a little extra configuration, this feature will probably be offered for an upgrade charge TBD — but you can get it at no charge as “beta tester” for a limited time. The only expense to your club will be registering the domain through a service such as GoDaddy.

Until now, if you wanted to use your own web domain (www.myclub.com instead of myclub.toastmost.org), you had to set up your own WordPress website and be prepared to administer it yourself — which is more expensive and technically complex. With hosting through Toastmost.org, I take care of the more technical details related to website maintenance and security.

Details:

  • You are responsible for registering your own domain through GoDaddy or one of its competitors. I will give you a few settings you will record with your domain registrar to “point” the domain to “point it” at the Toastmost service.
  • You will get access to the same assortment of WordPress plugins that are available to other Toastmost.org sites.
  • Currently, the only supported theme for club websites is Lectern, a design that has been reviewed for brand conformance by Toastmasters International.
  • In addition to your website, you will have the option of having email addresses and forwarders associated with your domain.
  • Clubs with established websites that volunteer for the beta program should be prepared for some disruption to the operation of their website when I “flip the switch” to turn on the domain hosting feature. I will do my best to make the transition as smooth as possible and can schedule it for an “off time” when members are less likely to be trying to access your site.
  • If you want complete technical control over your site (and are prepared to take complete technical responsibility), you may still prefer to run the WordPress for Toastmasters software on your own, independent hosting.

Update 10/16/2020

After going through it a couple of times, here is what the process looks like:

  • You let me know what domain you want to direct to the Toastmost server. I set the server to recognize traffic for that domain.
  • You make a couple of changes with your domain registrar to start directing traffic to Toastmost. I will send detailed instructions.
  • Initially, visitors will be forwarded to the subdomain address of your website. Once we have that working, I move onto the final steps …
  • I set up a security certificate so your site will show up with the padlock icon in your browser and flip the switch to make your domain name the primary address for your website. Anyone trying to visit your old subdomain will be redirected to the new address.

If you’re interested, write to david@wp4toastmasters.com.

Video: 15-Minute Overview of WordPress for Toastmasters

I delivered this overview as a guest speaker at The Choice Toastmasters of Charleston, SC. It covers the origins of the open source software project and the toastmost.org service. See examples from my home club, Club Awesome, and Online Presenters Toastmasters.

  • Marketing / recruiting advantages of a club website using WordPress based on WordPress.
  • Why you might consider using WordPress even though Toastmasters offers a free default option, Free Toast Host.
  • Demo of the agenda management tools.
  • How to use the online speech evaluation forms. Toastmasters makes evaluation forms available as PDFs, but web-based forms can be more convenient than emailing PDFs back and forth. This is an example of rethinking how a club should function when it meets online.
  • Volunteer opportunities: how you can help make the documentation and training materials or the software itself better.

New Officers, New Admins for the New Toastmasters Year

Clubs that inducted new officers in July may want to update the officer listings on their agenda and their member listing page. Based on questions I’ve been getting, club webmasters often forget where those basic settings get set — on the Toastmasters screen under Settings.

Toastmasters settings screenshot, showing how to set the officers list

From this screen, you can also boost the access rights of officers or other users you want to help you with the website or user management. As a website administrator, you can appoint another administrator. You may also want to name one or more managers, who will be able to edit website content and also add or edit user accounts.

You may not change those basic settings often, but when you do, the submenu under Settings is where you will find them.

The Settings section of your website may look different depending on what plugins you have installed, but you will should see settings screens for Toastmasters, TM Application Form, and RSVPMaker (the calendar plugin used for meetings and other events). You might visit the RSVPMaker section to turn event registration on for all events or to customize the default registration form and default confirmation message for events.

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.

Preview of an email broadcast
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.

Creating an email based on a blog post
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.

Setting the Members Only category for a blog post
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 sidebar widget for a Toastmasters club website

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).

Adding and rearranging sidebar widgets using the WordPress Customize tool

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 —

The "prospective new member" email from toastmasters.org

— you can automatically reply with a message like this:

Example of an automatic response to the prospective member

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.

Autoresponder setup

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.

Screenshot: verify autoreplies are being sent

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).