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Best Practices for Using the Online Contest Tools in WordPress for Toastmasters

The suite of digital tools for voting by judges — and vote counting by contest leaders — can allow you to get a vote very quickly if everything goes right. Here are the things you should do to make everything go right — and to be prepared when something goes wrong.

What the process looks like when everything goes right.

I have now been using some version of these tools for more than 3 years and have been involved in several contests that have gone swimmingly, as well as a few that had hiccups. When I think I can change the software to eliminate problems, I try to do so. But any software is just a tool, and how you use the tool makes a big difference.

Get Everything Set Up as Early as Possible

Set up the contest dashboard well in advance. On a club website, you would pick Contest Dashboard on the Agenda menu for the contest meeting date. You can also set up a contest dashboard independent of a WordPress for Toastmasters club website at contest.toastmost.org.

Familiarize yourself with the Contest Dashboard ahead of time, including all of the tabs across the bottom.

Before the contest begins, make sure you have set the speaker order. There’s an automated way of doing that through the tool, but if you use some other method make sure you record it manually on the Contestants tab. The digital ballots will not be active until the speaking order has been set.

Continue reading “Best Practices for Using the Online Contest Tools in WordPress for Toastmasters”

New Website & Newsletter Promotes Special Events and Club Meetings

If you have a special event to promote, be sure to let me know. Starting next Sunday I’ll be sending out a weekly calendar of events from the Toastmasters world — with one featured event getting star billing at the top of the list.

This will be a separate newsletter email list from the WordPress for Toastmasters one and potentially serves a larger audience. You can sign up for the email list and browse through events for the next few weeks at calendar.toastmost.org. Each event’s start time is adjusted for display in your local timezone, as well as the timezone of the club or event sponsor. Online and hybrid meetings make it possible to attend meetings and events anywhere in the world, but this display makes it easier to see how events from clubs far away align with your schedule.

Events from around the world adjusted to the viewer’s local timezone

As of now, what you will see are event listings pulled from club websites hosted on Toastmost.org. However, clubs who promote themselves through another website hosting service, or through Facebook, are invited to post their events directly to calendar.toastmost.org (even if what you post is just a link back to your own digital home base). On the other hand, you’re welcome to use the calendar website for more elaborate postings that can include images and other multimedia.

Although I’ve taken the liberty of adding Toastmost club websites as a way of jump starting this service, participation is optional. Clubs who use the WordPress for Toastmasters software can add or remove their club event listings from the website on the Site Sync On/Off page.

Each week, I’ll pick a different club or event to feature at the top of the newsletter that goes out on Sundays. In the mockup below, that’s the Your Featured Event Here slot. The event listing that follows covers events occurring in the next week.

The newsletter version does not include the timezone conversions (which don’t work in email) but links back to the website for this information. You’ll get a version of the newsletter shown above as a welcome email when you sign up for the mailing list.

Sign up at calendar.toastmost.org

There is no charge for this service, but I would be interested in hearing from potential sponsors or advertisers. In part, it will serve to promote the Toastmost.org club website hosting service.

Why a MailPoet Email Newsletter Might Make Sense for Your Club

As a longtime MailChimp user and a member of their developer program, I feel a little disloyal saying this — but a WordPress plugin called MailPoet looks like a better choice those of you looking to create an integrated digital marketing, recruiting, and member retention program for your Toastmasters club.

MailPoet makes it easy to assemble content from blog posts and web pages, plus any other text and images you’d like to add, into an email newsletter. They provide a nice drag-and-drop visual designer (which you can see in the video below), which is particularly good for pulling together content you already have on your website (no need to upload it again to a separate service).

In addition, I’ve been working on ways of integrating meeting and special event content. If you have people register online to attend your meetings, you can invite them to sign up for your email list at the same time. These features are available to both Toastmost users and independent website administrators.

The video below is a mashup of a speech I gave at Online Presenters, plus some supplementary material.

My MailPoet tutorial

And here’s an example of the welcome email guests at Online Presenters now get when they sign up for our email list as part of the process of signing up to attend a meeting.

Welcome message for the Online Presenters email list.

As distinct from a group email discussion list, which is another handy tool for a club to have at its disposal, an email newsletter is good for sending out more polished and designed marketing messages.

The MailPoet email newsletter distribution service is free for up to 1,000 subscribers, as long as you don’t mind an ad in the footer, and competitively priced beyond that level. If you should happen to hit the 1,000-subscriber mark with your Toastmasters club promotions — first of all, congratulations! — you can figure out whether paying for the service makes sense. But I suspect most clubs will happily use the free tier of service for a good long time.

Continue reading “Why a MailPoet Email Newsletter Might Make Sense for Your Club”

Showing the Online Toastmasters Speech Timer in Zoom, with OBS Studio (2021 Tutorial)

This is the latest of several tutorials I’ve prepared on making the online timer tool visible in Zoom, updated to reflect the fact that OBS Studio software no longer requires an additional plugin to function as a virtual camera. The timer tool itself has also been updated and enhanced many times since the first version was released in 2017.

You could achieve the same effect using other webcam software, such as SparkoCam, ManyCam, or XSplit Broadcaster, but OBS has the virtue of being a free download from obsproject.com.

See also this related post on using the timer in the context of an online Toastmasters contest.

If your club uses the WordPress for Toastmasters club website and agenda system, the timer tool is available under the agenda menu for regular meetings. The timer is available independently at https://toastmost.org/rsvpmaker/timer/?timer=1 — although you lose out on the benefits of integration with the agenda with that standalone version.

Update: Using the popup timer, rather than the main screen.

For more details on green screen setup, I recommend looking at this video tutorial:

Digital Contest Ballots, Timer Tool, and Contest Organizers’ Dashboard Updated for 2021

Here are a few video tutorials on the online tools for conducting contests created as part of the WordPress for Toastmasters project. These are also independently available at contest.toastmost.org for clubs that don’t have a a Toastmost or WordPress for Toastmasters website and for use in area, division, and district contests.

Each judge receives their own coded link to a digital ballot. As the judges vote, the Chief Judge and ballot counter can watch the as the ballots roll in and are automatically tabulated. The ballot counters can then hunt down any that may be missing, if necessary. With a little preparation, you can use this system to allow you to run a contest that will go smoothly and allow you to announce a result very quickly.

These tools are not new, but they are improved. New for 2021:

  • Easier setup for events that include 2 contests, such as International Speech and Table Topics
  • A quick way of emailing out the ballots and timer’s report links to contest functionaries
  • Clearer on-screen prompts and instructions for the judges on how to submit the digital ballot
  • Timer controls can be enlarged for easier viewing. Clarified some button labels and other controls. Updated instructions for sharing in Zoom, below.

Digital Ballots and Vote Counting Dashboard

Updates: Since this video was recorded, two elements of the contest organizer’s dashboard have moved to tabs at the bottom of the screen:

  • Email Links – this tab will help you send coded links to the judges and the timer.
  • Backup Forms – if any of the judges are unable to use the online ballot but get you their votes some other way (such as texting them to you), you can enter them on their behalf. They will then be added to the final tally.

Video: Contest Speech Timing Tool

Streaming the Timer Video to Zoom

If you want to share screen colors in a Zoom meeting, you will need some sort of webcam or streaming software. I use OBS Studio, which is free, open source software that allows you to mix your webcam video with other video sources. The virtual camera function, which used to require a separate plugin but is built into the latest release of OBS, must be turned on. In Zoom, you will then select OBS Virtual Camera as your video source.

Click Start Virtual Camera to begin sending output to the virtual camera. In OBS, you will select the timer window or the popup timer as the video source to use as your background.

Selecting the Virtual Camera in Zoom

Here’s a good tutorial on green screen setup for OBS Studio.

If your club has a Toastmost.org website, or its own WordPress-powered website, the same tool is available from a contest agenda. For regular meetings, the timer pulls in the names of speakers and evaluators from the agenda and gives you options for timing Table Topics and other events.

What Do You Get With Toastmost That You Can’t Get for Free?

The best things in life are free, and yet … it’s also said that you get what you pay for.

Why should any Toastmasters club should pay for a club website on Toastmost.org, when Free Toast Host is free? Or even pay for a WordPress site, when the basic version of WordPress.com is free?

To be clear, the WordPress for Toastmasters project gives its software away for free. You just need a club webmaster with the tech skills to set up an independent website and install the plugins. And at $30 per year, a Toastmost.org website is inexpensive compared to setting up your own website.

But to answer the question …

Free Toast Host is Free, But …

Free Toast Host is free because it is subsidized by Toastmasters International. This project is not. But for marketing purposes, what Free Toast Host gives you is more like a web page than a full-fledged website. Also, people have been complaining for years about the lack of a responsive design (where web pages adjust for display on a mobile device).

A WordPress design is more mobile friendly and includes many features that promote search engine optimization and social media integration. The software doesn’t do all the work, but a good club webmaster can take maximum advantage of those tools.

In other words, WordPress gives you more ways of attracting people to your website and converting them into visitors and, ultimately, members.

Finally, the functionality of WordPress website can be extended with optional plugins. This extensibility is how WordPress for Toastmasters adds agenda management, features to help clubs conduction online meetings, and so on.

WordPress.com Is Free, But …

WordPress is free and open source software (available through WordPress.org). Its major corporate backer operates a site where you can sign up for a free personal website: WordPress.com.

WordPress.com gives you the basic web publishing features for free, but you have to upgrade to a paid account in order to add plugins. You won’t be able to turn on the agenda management features of the WordPress for Toastmasters project on a free account. And even a paid account won’t duplicate the pre-configured features of a Toastmost website (such as mailing lists and an autoresponder for “prospective member” inquiries relayed from toastmasters.org).

Upgrade to install plugins message on WordPress.com

Other Options

Some clubs swear another volunteer-run service, easy-Speak, which has many virtues in terms of agenda and club management but not much polish in terms of club marketing.

Finally, some clubs improvise their own technical solutions with Google Sites and Google Sheets, or Wix, or their own website custom programmed by a resident techie. The WordPress for Toastmasters solution started as a hack for a single club and and is published as open source software, which as an open invitation for programmers and designers to add their own improvements.

The Toastmost Alternative

Toastmost signup page

To get a Toastmost site, you must 1) sign up for the WordPress for Toastmasters email list 2) create a Toastmost user account 3) fill out a form that asks for your details like club name and when you meet.

The learning curve is not zero, but I keep trying to simplify it — and am available to answer questions. I’m also looking for people who can help with documentation and training materials, or who will share feedback on where the documentation and/or the software itself aren’t as good as they ought to be.

If a generous sponsor should come along to allow me to make the Toastmost service free, that would make me very happy. Until then …

David F. Carr for Toastmost and the WordPress for Toastmasters project

david@wp4toastmasters.com

Updates to Toastmost.org Find a Club Autoresponder, Plus BaseCamp Notification Forwarding

Update: see the latest documentation.

Toastmost users can take advantage of a few email functions meant to assist with notification emails from Toastmasters.org.

You can have an automated bot respond to those “New prospective member for your club” emails sent when someone fills out a form on your club’s “Find a Club” page, letting people know the essential details about your club. You can also set up a forwarding list specifically for BaseCamp notifications and a general forwarding list for all other notifications.

These functions are only available on Toastmost.org so far but may be added to the open source software distribution in the future.

Setup is through this screen under TM Administration.

Find a Club / Notifications Setup

Choose whether to take advantage of an @toastmost.org email address associated with your website that you register in Club Central. Alternatively, you can configure forwarding from another email account your club uses (GMail instructions here).

Creating an Automatic Response Message

Choose “New” from the dropdown menu under “Automatic response content” and click Save Changes. This will create a simple message directing people to visit your club’s website to learn more.

You can then edit the message to add more details about your club, such as membership requirements and contact information for the VP of Membership.

Online Presenters example

The example above is from a test inquiry I sent to myself for one of my clubs, Online Presenters. A copy of the response sent to the prospective member is shared with the website administrator, with a subject line that starts “autoreply sent to” and the email address of the prospective member. If everything is working properly, you will see that message within few minutes of receiving the prospective member message from toastmasters.org.

General Forwarding

Enter a list of email addresses of people who should receive copies of notification emails sent to this general inbox.

BaseCamp Notification Forwarding

Optionally, you can have a different forwarding list for messages from BaseCamp@toastmasters.org, such as “Action needed: Member submitted a completion request.” Typically, the BaseCamp list would consist of the officers authorized to approve level completion requests.

If you have this set up, BaseCamp messages will ONLY be distributed to the people on this list (not to the general forwarding list).

If no BaseCamp list is specified, BaseCamp messages will be forwarded to the general list.

Best of the Blog: Toastmasters Online PR, Marketing and Recruiting

While you can read a lot on this blog about the technical details of working with WordPress and my extensions for Toastmasters clubs, perhaps the most valuable things I’ve shared over the years are about online club marketing strategy. Here’s a collection of the ones that still ring true.

My example of: Show your club’s personality!

The image above is from one of the first blogs I posted here and still one of my favorites: Your Toastmasters Club Website: Show Some Personality!” At the time, my home club had recently moved (several times) winding up at the conference room upstairs at an ice skating rink. So we celebrated our unusual location by setting up this picture of then President Marilyn Brown behind a lectern we’d moved out onto the ice — and for good measure, persuaded the Zamboni drive to cruise by in the background.

Point being: you should celebrate whatever it is that makes your club unique (or even weird).

Your website should make a strong case for why someone ought to pick your club to join rather than another one in town. I certainly don’t mean that you should badmouth any other group, but you should articulate a strong positive message. We are talking friendly rivalry rather than cut-throat competition. The truth is that some of the things you play up as advantages will be disadvantages in the eyes of some potential members — and that’s okay. Continue reading “Your Toastmasters Club Website: Show Some Personality!”→

For how-to details on posting content to WordPress, see the knowledge base documentation.

How Your Toastmasters Club Website Can Help with Recruiting

When guests visit my home club, Club Awesome, one thing we often hear from them is, “I looked up a few local clubs, but I really liked what I saw on your website” … which is my cue to beam with pride.

There are certainly limits to what a website can do for you as a recruiting tool — what guests experience in person has to measure up to what they saw online — but a good website can attract guests and, ultimately, members. A bad website can also scare them away. And while I promote WordPress for Toastmasters and have considerable ego wrapped up in the idea that it is the best online platform for clubs, the software is less important than what you do with it. I’ve seen some very uninspired WordPress-based club websites, as well as some good Free Toast Host examples. Continue reading “How Your Toastmasters Club Website Can Help with Recruiting”→

10 Ways To Improve Your Home Page (or Any Page or Post)

WordPress gives you all the tools you need to market your club on the web and an anchor for your outreach by other means, including email and social media.

What the software will not do is tell your story for you. The words, the image, and the creative message have to come from you.

Club website with a strong home page image

New sites on the Toastmost.org service (the easiest way to get up and running with WordPress for Toastmasters) come with a sort of prefab home page that includes boilerplate content from Toastmasters International. That is intended as a starting point, but you should replace most of it with — or at least the introduction — with your own story.

What follows are tips about what content to include, along with how-to instructions for WordPress.

To be clear, I am not saying you need to use all these techniques on every page of your website. In fact, be careful about overloading your web pages with too many types of content or making them too long. It’s better to break the content for more pages and posts, keeping each one short, simple, and focused. Continue reading “10 Ways To Improve Your Home Page (or Any Page or Post)”→

How a Blog Makes a Toastmasters Club Website Stronger

This morning a guest at Club Awesome Toastmasters, who came in the door ready and willing to join, answered this way when we asked how she found us: “Well, I saw this was the club closest to me, and then I looked at your website — and I was sold!”

Blog post promoting a conference presentation.
Blog post promoting a conference presentation.

That was music to my ears, of course. One of the things she saw coming to our website was a lot of recent activity, conveyed through the blog. For example, recent posts celebrate wins by our members at an area contest, as well as a series of videos previewing a presentation one of our club leaders will be giving at the district conference. Continue reading “How a Blog Makes a Toastmasters Club Website Stronger”→

Grow Your Toastmasters Club: Web and Social Media Tactics

Toastmasters know, or ought to know, that first impressions are important: how confident you look walking to the front of the room, what words you choose to open your speech with, and how well you deliver them makes a huge difference in how your speech is perceived and how forgiving people will be of a small stumble later on. You need to think about recruiting the same way.

The first impression guests and prospective new members have of your club is probably what they see when they visit your website. This will be particularly true of new people who comes to your club on their own, rather than being invited in by an existing member. If someone is proactive enough to find the toastmasters.org website, search through area clubs and their schedules, and click through to your website — that is a good prospect, one you don’t want to let slip away. You want what they see online to convince them that yours is definitely the club to come to, not the one down the street. Continue reading “Grow Your Toastmasters Club: Web and Social Media Tactics”→

Updates to Toastmasters Contest Digital Ballots, Vote Counting Dashboard

The digital ballot for judges and the dashboard used for setting up contests and monitoring the vote count have been updated for 2021, and the documentation has also been updated.

The digital ballot replicates the experience of filling in a traditional paper ballot for judging a Toastmasters contest but streamlines the process for contests conducted online. Try the digital ballot demo.

Taking advantage of the fact that computers are good at doing math, the digital ballot helps judges tally the scores for each speaker and speeds the process of tallying the votes once judges have submitted them.

Setting Up a Toastmasters Contest for Digital Ballots and Online Vote Counting

Contest organizers may create an online vote counting dashboard that works with digital ballots completed by the judges. Once voting begins, the chief judge and ballot counters will be able to watch the votes roll in as shown below.

This article explains how to set up the digital ballots, speaking order, and other prerequisites.

Continue reading “Setting Up a Toastmasters Contest for Digital Ballots and Online Vote Counting”→

Digital Ballot for Toastmasters Contests

As a judge, you will receive an individualized link for each contest you are judging. The link may be password protected for judges who have user accounts on the club website. Also, the order in which the contestants are presented on the form mirrors the speaking order set by the contest organizers.

Here’s a sample ballot.

Online ballot

Continue reading “Digital Ballot for Toastmasters Contests”→