As July 1 comes closer, club webmasters should be preparing to not only update the list of officers displayed on the website but also give at least some of them another promotion — increased access to the website’s back end functions.
There is a case for giving elevated security rights to most every officer, for example so the VP of Education can modify the meeting agendas, the VP of Public Relations can post to the blog, the VP of Membership can add user accounts for new members, the Secretary can record minutes that will be stored on the website, and the Treasurer can set up and track online payments.
The exact division of responsibility will vary between clubs depending on the comfort level various officers have with technology, but the club webmaster should not be doing it all. And every club webmaster should have a backup — at least one other person who has full administrative rights to change website settings.
We had our best WordPress for Toastmasters workshop yet earlier this week, thanks largely to the input from guest speakers Arelene Preudhomme, Eloise Young, and Loni Huff.
Here’s a replay, with some follow up material below.
For details on the meeting minutes tool briefly mentioned in here, see this video demo. In addition, one thing that I promised to show but didn’t wind up having time for is the new tool for sending newsletters and event invitations by email. As shown in the meeting minutes demo, it can also be used to distribute minutes to club members.
The email tool is part of my RSVPMaker plugin, meaning you can use it on other websites outside of Toastmasters such as one for your small business. There is more detail, including details about advanced customization options, on the RSVPMaker blog.
The Toastmost service offers a set of WordPress themes (designs) that incorporate the colors from the brand manual and have been shared with the brand compliance team at Toastmasters International for review.
These WordPress themes provide a brand-compliant starting point, but the Toastmasters leaders who run these sites are still responsible for how they customize these sites.
Independent websites have more freedom to innovate, but with great power comes great responsibility. As part of the workshop, Loni Huff showed off a wildly different website for her Dungeons & Toast specialty site, but as she mentioned only logged in members see that version. The public website still shows off the unique character of that specialty club, while using brand manual colors and the standard logo.
One of the things she demonstrates is the power of building on a web platform that allows skilled and creative people to go beyond what I provide “out of the box.”
If your club keeps detailed minutes of its regular meetings, including attendance and details on who spoke and served in other roles, the Secretary can import that content from the agenda (making corrections along the way) and add notes about club business. Minutes can then be published to a members-only section of the website and distributed by email.
This is an upgrade from a previous version of the tool that allowed Secretaries to do the same thing but with the idea that they would export the content to Microsoft Word. That’s still an option, but the advantage of publishing minutes privately to to WordPress is that the website can serve as part of the club’s records-keeping system.
Here’s a demo:
After this was recorded, I added an option to email out the minutes similar to the way you can email out the agenda. There is also Print link you can use to view the minutes in a simplified template for printing (also suitable for copy-and-paste into a word processor).
The latest WordPress for Toastmasters software update includes a new meeting minutes document type and email functions previously only available on Toastmost.
You set up mailing lists and minutes in the new TM Email and TM Minutes menu sections of the administrator’s dashboard. You need administrator rights to view the TM Email section or editor rights to view the TM Minutes section.
Previously, the email configuration screens were previously displayed on the Toastmost service under a menu labeled “Toastmost” because those features were only available as Toastmost services. In addition to adding them to the open source software version, the new menu structure aims to make the purpose of these configuration screens clearer.
The software does not provide email accounts per se but it can forward messages, for example on the demo.toastmost.org website:
email@example.com forwards to the club president.
firstname.lastname@example.org as a mailing list for distribution to all members of the club (only for messages coming from other club members).
email@example.com as the officer email list.
firstname.lastname@example.org as a custom forwarding address you define.
email@example.com as a general email inbox that forwards to one or more officers.
If you registered as the official Club Central email on toastmasters.org, firstname.lastname@example.org can also:
Selectively forward Base Camp manager messages to one or more officers.
Send an automated response to email@example.com messages generated when someone completes the form on your club’s Find a Club page.
If your website has its own domain, the prefix (“demo-” in the examples above) is not needed. For example, the clubawesome.org website has a firstname.lastname@example.org members email list.
Previously, there was some functionality for posting meeting minutes as blog posts, with a “members only” category that could be applied to restrict viewing those documents to logged in members. Making them a separate post type on the website enforces a clearer separation. A previously published tool for extracting member meeting role and attendance records for use in minutes has been updated to work with this new feature.
A link to the section of the website where members can view the minutes documents has been added to the top of the members dashboard. Members of the general public who find their way to that section of the website will only see the headlines and a prompt to log in.
These minutes documents are maintained separately from the blog posts, web pages, and events posted to your website, but you will edit them in the same WordPress editor you use for other website content. You can also upload images and files to embed in your minutes.
Note: the members-only security feature does not necessarily protect documents uploaded into the website from being viewable by non-members. They won’t be easily discoverable but you should not upload documents containing highly sensitive information (such as passwords or social security numbers) into the website.
I’m looking for a few good communicators: specifically people with a talent for communicating technical information as simply as possible.
The WordPress for Toastmasters project, and the Toastmost.org site hosting service, aim to put the power of the world’s most popular web publishing platform at the fingertips of club and district webmasters. In addition to offering TI-branded website designs, my add-ons support agenda management and other club business processes. Much as I want to brag about it, I know this enterprise would be better if it was less of a one man show.
I’m appealing to the trainers and technical writers among you, as well as those interested in developing those skills, to contribute to an article or a video. Take time to learn the software and make it easier for others to learn.
To date, I have created most of the documentation myself. You will find it in the knowledge base section of this website. Although I put a lot of work into it, I’m arguably the worst person to document the software because I already know how it works and don’t always recognize the details that aren’t obvious to other people. Although it’s often in the process of trying to explain things, that I realize I need to make them better.
Documentation and Simplification
The best software documentation is no documentation at all, if software can be made completely self explanatory. Unfortunately, making software easy to use turns out to be one of the hardest things in computing.
WordPress is easy to use — once you get the hang of it — but also ever changing because the developers behind this open source web publishing platform are forever pursuing new goals, including improved ease of use. The very latest updates to WordPress make designing or redesigning an entire website easier than ever before, but those new “ease of use” features take a while to get used to, and they will probably be significantly better a version or two from now.
My goal is to help club leaders learn the essentials of WordPress needed to publish an attractive home page and the occasional blog, while also managing agendas and other Toastmasters specific tasks. They don’t need to master all the details professional web developers and designers care about, but they need to make the effort they invest productive for their club.
In addition to helping me explain the offering to the world, volunteers can probably give me feedback on things that are more complicated than they need to be. And we’ll work on making them better.
Help clubs turn their websites into digital marketing and recruiting machines
Toastmost is an independent, volunteer-run project that helps Toastmasters clubs modernize their websites and use them more effectively for marketing, recruiting, and meeting management. Built on top of WordPress, the world’s most popular web publishing platform, Toastmost sites are optimized for:
Mobile, with content that reformats for phones and tablets.
Search, adding structure that Google and other search engines understand.
Social media, with integrations for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and more.
Video, making it easy to add content from YouTube, Vimeo, and others.
Club business, with tools for agenda management, member enrollment, and dues payment.
Professional development, offering club leaders an opportunity to learn website management skills they can apply to other business or nonprofit ventures.
District Sponsorship for Free or Discounted Club Websites
Clubs that come to the service independently are normally offered a 3-month free trial, after which hosting on the service costs $50 per year. Districts interested in lowering that barrier to entry — particularly for new clubs that may find it most useful but are just establishing a budget — have the option of sponsoring free or discounted club websites.
For a $450 sponsorship, Toastmost will provide districts with coupon codes to distribute to clubs as they see fit. This can be either:
10 coupon codes for 1 year free (really 15 months, since the year starts after the 3-month trial).
20 coupon codes for a 50% discount, or $25 for the first year of hosting on Toastmost.
This offer can be scaled up or down, proportionately — $45 per 1-year-free coupon or two 50% discount coupons. Minimum: $135 for three 1-year-free coupon codes.
This could be particularly useful for new clubs or clubs that are struggling and need the benefit of Toastmost’s marketing and member recruiting tools.
Coupon codes can be entered upon registration or any time during the 3-month trial period.
Most clubs continue to use either Free Toast Host (toastmastersclubs.org), which is supported by Toastmasters International, or easy-Speak, a volunteer project that I’m told gets financial support from districts where it is widely used. Some clubs use both — Free Toast Host as the marketing site and easy-Speak for agenda management.
The WordPress for Toastmasters alternative gives clubs access to professional digital marketing and publishing tools — for example, providing better support for viewing on a mobile phone than either Free Toast Host or easy-Speak. In addition, the WordPress option provides its own framework for agenda management, along with productivity tools that are particularly useful for online and hybrid club operations. For example, new members can complete a web-based application form and pay online via either PayPal or Stripe.
Who Is Behind Toastmost?
From WordPress for Toastmasters project founder David F. Carr
Toastmost is currently run on an approximately break-even budget by Carr Communications Inc., my small business.
I consider hosting and support for club websites a volunteer project, and invite technical and training contributions from other volunteers, but it does require financial support. The primary expense related to the service is for hosting infrastructure purchased from Siteground. The core software is available for free through WordPress for Toastmasters for those with the technical resources to run an independent site hosted elsewhere.
Toastmasters International allows this business arrangement and its brand compliance department has reviewed the starter designs offered to clubs. I have discussed moving ownership of Toastmost to a nonprofit entity but would need partners and sponsors (for the legal fees) to do so. Write to email@example.com if you would like to help.
Meanwhile, I run this venture as a loss leader for my business, which potentially generates interest in my service as a consultant on pro speaker websites and other business websites, including district websites.
Independent of any financial support from districts, I am available to present on Toastmost and the WordPress option at training events and conferences.
Help with District Websites
In the 2021-2022 year, I participated in a pilot project with District 62 on the redesign of their 62toast.com website and also worked with district leaders to encourage clubs to adopt the service.
Districts interested in consulting with me in the coming year are invited to write to firstname.lastname@example.org, or set up a Zoom meeting using https://calendly.com/davidfcarr/after-hours/. Because every district’s requirements will be different, there is no standard pricing for this offer — which is really more for Carr Communications services than Toastmost access per se.
However some of the services that can be offered are outlined below (see also the video at the bottom of this page).
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.
Email aliases like dd@, pqd@, cgd@, trio@, divisionB@, area5@, etc.
Option of enabling a dec@ email list. Only DEC members or whitelisted addresses can write to the list; messages are distributed to all members.
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.
Toastmasters Magazine recently invited me to contribute an article on the importance of the club website, which appears in the February issue. That in turn led to an invitation to be interviewed on the official Toastmasters Podcast. I consider this a bit of a breakthrough for mainstream acceptance of the WordPress for Toastmasters project and the Toastmost.org club website hosting service — which I hope will lead to more club leaders considering the option.
I did take care to make most of my recommendations ones that could also be applied to a Free Toast Host website or one of the many other options. Of course, that didn’t stop me from recommending that people check out how their club website looks on a mobile phone browser (hint: a WordPress site will do much better at automatically adjusting to small screens). But I mostly behaved myself.
How to leave an inviting impression with online visitors.
Toastmasters know the importance of a first impression. However, the first impression a prospective member gets of your club often happens before they even visit their first meeting. It’s formed when they visit your club website.
Think about the things you invest your time and money in: You probably check them out online first. The question is: Is your website helping or hurting? Does it tell people what they need to know about Toastmasters and your club? Or does it feature obviously outdated information like a promotion for an “upcoming” event that happened a year ago? Does it talk about Table Topics® (insider jargon) without explaining the relevance of impromptu speaking practice?
Here are some ways to make your club website a better marketing and recruiting tool.
If your club is holding hybrid meetings, with some members attending online and others in person, you may find it useful to keep track of who is attending in person. My home club is currently limiting in-person attendance to 10 people as a precaution against continuing issues with COVID-19, so adding a way to track attendance through the agenda solved an immediate practical problem for us.
You can include a widget like the one shown above on your agenda, and members will also be prompted to indicate their plans when they sign up for a role.
Site administrators will now find TM Help right under TM Administration for access to documentation and tutorial resources, as well as details on how to contact me when you can’t find an answer to your questions. The Todo List — a prioritized list of common setup tasks with links to the relevant setup pages and documentation — appears in this section.
If your club uses WordPress for its club website, there is an easy way to add a Google Map for your meeting location. Visitors will be able to click to see a larger version of the map or get directions.
The current version of WordPress includes a content block specifically for maps, eliminating the need to futz with embedded coding coding.
In the WordPress editor, click the + button to add a new block. Type the word “map” to see the relevant blocks. There are actually several alternatives shown here, including one from Jetpack (the Swiss Army knife of plugins) shown with a green icon and a couple of others that can be added. Unless you need to do something particularly fancy, I suggest using the default Map block (shown in black / gray).
You will be prompted to add the address of the location you want displayed. If you are meeting at a well known venue, such as a city facility, you may just need to put in the name of that place with city and state as shown here. Otherwise, add the full address including postal code.
This should give you a nicely formatted interactive map display. There are some additional formatting options you can set, which are optional. Although there is a place to enter a Google Maps API key, that also is optional and probably unnecessary for a Toastmasters club website.
This is a replay of a tutorial and coaching session that was attended by club leaders working on websites hosted at Toastmost.org, the web hosting service for the WordPress for Toastmasters project. Thanks to District 62 for being particularly well represented!
See also the links to other resources included below the video.
* This software is offered "for Toastmasters" but not is provided by or endorsed by Toastmasters International. The use of Toastmasters brand assets (with proper disclaimers) in website designs has been reviewed by the Toastmasters International brand compliance team.