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Recommend a member for a Toastmasters meeting role

This is a quick demo of how you would recommend a role for another member using WordPress for Toastmasters. The recipient of your recommendation gets an email notification, allowing them to confirm their acceptance with one click on a coded link (no login required).

I added this in response to a request from Matthew Kleinosky (a contact from the Official Toastmasters Members Group on Facebook) and it’s modeled loosely after a function in Easy Speak that he told me to take a look at. One difference: I don’t reserve a place on the agenda for the person being nominated to take the role. If the speaker slot or other role gets taken by someone else in the meantime, the nominee will get a prompt to log in and sign up for something else.

The Toastmaster of the Day, VP of Education, or other meeting organizer can nominate several individuals and add a personal note. The drop down-list of members to be chosen is restricted to those who do not already have a role for the upcoming meeting. As a guideline, it also shows how long it’s been since the member served in that particular role (or if they’ve never done it). For example, if you were nominating someone to speak you would see how long it has been since they spoke at the club. These statistics will become more meaningful and accurate after you have been using the system for a few months.

No narration on this video, just a quick walkthrough first from the viewpoint of the meeting organizer and then starting in the email inbox of the member being nominated to take a role.

Does Toastmasters Approve?

Does Toastmasters International approve of what I’m doing here? As far as I can tell, they don’t disapprove — and I have specifically asked for feedback on whether I’m adhering to their brand guidelines and delivering a service consistent with the TI mission.

I got this question from someone who who participated in the webcast I held a few weeks ago, presumably from someone who was concerned about violating the rules. Because the Free Toast Host / toastmastersclubs.org service has been promoted as the default option for years, many club leaders assume they’re required to use it. However, Toastmasters has also provided branding guidelines that can be incorporated into other website hosting services, which I’ve tried to adhere to.

The latest response I got from TI’s marketing department included the line “We thank you for your effort in supporting Toastmasters.”

My only disappointment is that they aren’t willing to list what I offer side-by-side with Free Toast Host. What I said on that webcast was that, as far as I knew, FTH was started the same way this site is being started, as an independent service created by Toastmasters members who also happened to be web developers. However, at some point TI apparently agreed to underwrite the operational costs of that hosting service.

What I’m hearing from TI is that they will not point club leaders to any “third party services” on the redesigned toastmasters.org website they are currently preparing for launch: “FreeToastHost will continue to be listed as a resource, but we are not looking for additional services of this type.”

Maybe this is ego talking, but I do think it’s a mistake for them to make FTH the standard unless they’re willing to invest the resources into making it a lot better. Rather than arguing about it now, my plan is to get 100 or more clubs up and running on this platform with club officers who see the value and would be willing to vouch for why it’s better. Then, maybe the brass at TI will reconsider at least listing WordPress for Toastmasters as an alternative.

WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com vs. WordPress for Toastmasters

WordPress is software for blogging and website management that promotes both professional and amateur web publications and sometimes interactive applications. One of the things that can be confusing for the uninitiated is that WordPress comes in several flavors. Also, even though it is “free” and open, exactly what you get for free varies.

Here’s how the WordPress for Toastmasters service fits in.

WordPress.org is where you can download the software for free and install it on your own web server. This is open source software, containing contributions from a community of volunteers as well as professional developers from the main sponsor and creator of the system, Automattic.

What’s free: you get the software for free, but you pay for the hosting. You have the freedom to customize the site however you want, using free or premium plugins and website design themes or inventing your own.

WordPress.com
WordPress.com

WordPress.com is a free blog hosting service run by Automattic and powered by the same software made available through WordPress.org. Automattic does offer some paid upgrades, but the basic service is absolutely free and includes many popular themes and plugins.

You are restricted to those company-approved themes and plugins, however. My event scheduling and Toastmasters-specific plugins are not on the list.

What’s free: you get the basic blog hosting service for free, but you don’t get to tinker with the software or upload your own plugins or site design themes.

WordPress for Toastmasters offers free club websites on something like the WordPress.com model, providing a selection of themes and plugins, including plugins that add Toastmasters-specific functionality. Some themes offer design customization choices that, for example, allow you to change the background color and the Toastmasters logo banner at the top of the page.

WordPress for Toastmasters uses a WordPress configuration option known as WordPress Multisite, which is what allows each club to have its own site within the site, with its own list of authorized users (club members and officers) and its own separate content, design, and configuration options.

What’s free: the club website hosting, including Toastmasters-specific functionality. If you want access to themes or plugins beyond those I’ve selected, you will have to convince me to add them and make them available to everyone. Free sites include advertising (in the sidebar of the page).

Alternative: a custom Toastmasters website, hosted by Carr Communications Inc., starts at $200 per year, provides additional freedom to customize beyond the limits of the shared WordPress for Toastmasters environment. This is not a bait-and-switch option — I’m not holding back features from the free version so you’ll be compelled to upgrade — but may be more appropriate for clubs that have the money in their budget and want one or more of the following: an web independent domain, the access required for additional customizations by a club webmaster, or a site with no advertising.

(More detail: Free Toastmasters Club Websites vs. Custom Websites)

Free Toastmasters Club Websites vs. Custom Websites

With WP4Toastmasters.com, your club can have a free website at an address like myclub.wp4toastmasters.com. That you can use for all the club marketing and meeting management/member management functions documented here.

Free Websites

Free websites are supported by advertising and free will donations (if you find the service really valuable, consider making a contribution to help sustain the project).

Still, free means free, and I’m not trying to bait-and-switch you into something that costs money.

There are some aspects of what I’m offering that cost money (see note below), so if the economics don’t quite add up … well, who knows? But I see no reason why I couldn’t continue to support the early adopters of this service indefinitely, or at a bare minimum give you plenty of notice if I find I’m bankrupting myself and have to make a change.

Your Own Domain

Right now, if you want to use this system but have it show up at your own independent domain (www.myclub.com), you’ll have to sign up for an independent hosting account (see custom websites, below).
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Email Reminders Help Keep Members Showing Up

The personal touch is great, and to the extent that someone from your club can be calling people during the days leading up to a meeting, it’s likely to pay off in a better turnout. But I’ve found a little automation also can help.

At my home club, Club Awesome, we send out an automated reminder two days before our regularly scheduled meeting, and that seems to work well. Here, the reminder interval is customizable to 4 hours, 8 hours, 1 day, 2 days, or 3 days in advance of your scheduled meeting. The trick is to remind people far enough ahead that they see your note and not so far ahead that they forget what you reminded them about.

The Toastmaster of the Day gets a reminder that he or she is supposed to be in charge of organizing the meeting and filling any empty roles. The message includes the current signups list and a member listing with everyone’s contact information.
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WordPress for Toastmasters Oct. 15 Webcast Replay

Here’s a tour of WordPress for Toastmasters, including an overview of why it works the way it does.

The second version, below, is a shorter excerpt focused on the demo portion of the presentation.

Shows how to interact with the website in different roles:

  • Member signing up for roles online
  • Meeting organizer signing up others, emailing members to ask them to fill open roles
  • Officer editing / updating member stats, reconciling records of past meetings
  • Officer or member viewing performance reports
  • Officer or club webmaster posting to the blog, cross promoting posts on social media

Site Design Themes for WordPress for Toastmasters

Here are the current themes available on the WordPress for Toastmasters site, including the one with 6 alternate logo/heading banners. Someone told me the burgundy color scheme should only be used at the district and above level, so trying to get a ruling on that.

Twenty Twelve Toastmasters
My Toast Home Headers (six alternate site logo banners)
Twenty Twelve Maroon
Cobalt Blue Toastmasters
Twenty Fourteen Toastmasters

Toastmasters Website Design with 6 Logo Banner Choices

Update: I currently recommend downloading the Lectern theme as the best option for Toastmasters branding on WordPress. Like the example shown below, Lectern allows you to choose from among several logo banner choices. Lectern is the standard theme on the free sites offered here. To install it on any other club or district website, download it from the wordpress.org repository.

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I just got this working and had to share. The “My Toast Home in Twenty Twelve” theme I just made available on the website allows you to pick from one of 6 different Toastmasters-branded banners.

This is a handy customization option in addition to those I described in my previous post on Changing the Design of Your WordPress for Toastmasters Site. For a logged in site administrator, the Toastmasters Banner option appears on the drop down menu shown below as well as on the administrator’s dashboard under Appearance.

banner-menu

From the Toastmasters banner screen, you can choose any one of 6 Toastmasters banners designs (originally created by Bradley Smith for the My Toast Home theme and used by permission).

Choose a theme header.
Choose a theme header.

You can then take advantage of some of the other WordPress design customization options, such as modifying the background color used on the site to match the banner.

I still plan to offer the My Toast Home themes independently but am currently working with designer Bradley Smith on a few small changes. You may find his themes to be a more complete package. But my mashup of his headers with one of the standard WordPress themes distributed with the software (Twenty Twelve) offers a nice degree of flexibility.

Changing the Design of Your WordPress for Toastmasters Site

Your site will be most impressive if it contains good content about your club and its people, but design is also important. In WordPress, you can change the whole look of your site by changing the theme. A WordPress a theme is a set of templates, images, and fonts, and other styles. WordPress for Toastmasters makes a set of Toastmasters-branded themes available for your use, and we will be adding to it over time. Most of these are actually “child themes,” meaning modifications of popular WordPress themes.

I’ve just updated several of these to be closer to the Toastmasters International branding guidelines.

When you’re logged in, Themes is one of the options available from the black menu at the top of the screen. From the administrator’s dashboard, you would go to Appearance -> Themes.

nav-2-themes

The Themes selection screen allows you to choose any of the available themes and click Activate.

theme-choices

Many themes also offer customization options such as the ability for you to change the background color. For example, the design you see below is a combination of the Twenty Twelve Maroon theme and customization of the background for a dark burgundy color. The numeric code for that color is #511, but you can also pick a color using the pop-up dialog box.
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