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”→

7 Ways Toastmost Club Website Hosting Improved in the Past Year

The Toastmost.org club website hosting service is how most clubs who use the WordPress for Toastmasters software get access, skipping the steps necessary to set up the software on an independent website. They get a powerful web publishing, marketing, and recruiting solution combined with agenda management and club management features.

Here are 7 ways the software and the hosting service got better in the last year. They include faster setup, more design flexibility, and multiple improvements to features for online meetings and contests.

1. Get a Toastmasters Club Website in Minutes, with the New Setup Wizard

You can now create a Toastmasters club website on Toastmost.org, make basic customizations to your meeting agenda, invite others to help you evaluate the software, and start sharpening your marketing message — all within minutes. You can even incorporate features to help you organize online meetings and meetings that include online participation. Because WordPress for … Continue reading

2. Simplified Member and Officer Email Lists for All Toastmost Users

Email distribution lists — write to one address, and your message is delivered to everyone on the list — are now available for all Toastmasters clubs who want them on the Toastmost.org hosting service. Toastmost is the easiest way to create a website that incorporates the WordPress for Toastmasters software. Until now, getting an email … Continue reading

3. Use the Toastmost Find a Club Email Bot with GMail

Toastmasters International sends a variety of different notifications, including “Contact Club” emails from the “Find a Club” page, all to the same email address that you’ve registered in Club Central. Sending an automated response is one way of responding faster and more consistently — which is not to say you shouldn’t also follow up personally. … Continue reading

4. Experimental Toastmost.org Feature: Login Without a Password

If you are on the Toastmost service, you may want to experiment with a new feature and let me know how you like it. This is an alternate way users can authenticate themselves to the website without a password, using a one-time login link. The process is similar the one you use to reset your … Continue reading

5. 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 … Continue reading

6. Use Your Own Domain with Toastmost Club Website Hosting

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 … Continue reading

7. Updates to the Online Ballots for Contest Judges and the Vote Counting Dashboard

When I recently asked for feedback from people who had used my online tools for judges, ballot counters, and the chief judge, one message I got from the judges was they wanted clearer confirmation that their votes had been received. Here is how the latest release of the software handles that, showing the judge a … Continue reading

Simplified Member and Officer Email Lists for All Toastmost Users

Email distribution lists — write to one address, and your message is delivered to everyone on the list — are now available for all Toastmasters clubs who want them on the Toastmost.org hosting service. Toastmost is the easiest way to create a website that incorporates the WordPress for Toastmasters software.

Until now, getting an email list on Toastmost required club leaders to file a request and wait for the server administrator (me) to perform a few manual steps. Now, these email lists can be enabled with a couple of clicks. For new users, the choice of whether to enable them is part of the club website setup wizard that welcomes them to the service.

Once enabled, the distribution lets any club member to send a message to the rest of the club.

For example, this is a test I did for the Webinarmasters club, relayed through webinarmasters@toastmost.org.

Sample email list message

Club officers are advised to limit use of the member email list to club business or social invitations. Members who abuse the list can have their access blocked. Messages from unrecognized addresses will also be blocked to prevent it from becoming a vehicle for spam.

A separate list allows officers to email all the other officers, using the officer list from the Toastmasters settings screen on the WordPress dashboard. In both cases, it’s possible to specify additional list recipients (for example, including an area director or past president on the officers email list).

Email list setup

Although this configuration is Toastmost-specific, webmasters who host the software elsewhere can enable mailing lists through the Group Email tab of the RSVPMaker plugin’s Settings screen. The difference is they will have to do more of the work related to email server configuration themselves.

Use the Toastmost Find a Club Email Bot with GMail

Toastmasters International sends a variety of different notifications, including “Contact Club” emails from the “Find a Club” page, all to the same email address that you’ve registered in Club Central.

Sending an automated response is one way of responding faster and more consistently — which is not to say you shouldn’t also follow up personally. Currently, this feature is only available to clubs that host their websites on toastmost.org.

To use the autoresponder, you need to have contact email messages from clubleads@toastmasters.org forwarded to findaclub@toastmost.org.

One relatively easy way is to create a GMail account specifically for purposes of club correspondence and have it forward selected emails to findaclub@toastmost.org. While you’re at it, you might want to set up forwarding of various other standard messages to the appropriate officers. See the illustrated tutorial below.

The process is:

  1. Record your club’s main email address here.
  2. Edit the message that will be sent in response to prospective member inquiries. For example, if you answer most of the questions people typically have on your website, you can send them a link to your website, along with contact information for your officers. The title of the document you create in WordPress will become the subject line of the automated emails, and the body of the document will become the body of the autoreply messages.
  3. Set up forwarding from your club’s email account to findaclub@toastmost.org
  4. Before establishing a forwarding address, GMail sends a nofification to the target address asking for confirmation. Our findaclub email bot sends you a copy, allowing you to approve the forwarding yourself by clicking a link in the notification.
  5. Create a forwarding rule in GMail to forward any message from clubleads@toastmasters.org to findaclub@toastmost.org
  6. Verify that it’s working by sending your own Contact Club inquiry from your club’s Find a Club page.

When findaclub@toastmost.org receives a notification from clubleads@toastmasters.org, it parses that message, finds the address of the person requesting information, and sends them the autoresponder message you have defined.

Step-by-Step Illustrations

Autoresponder / Notifications Forwarding Setup
GMail Settings
Show All Settings
Add a forwarding address
Toastmost’s Find-a-Club bot sends you Gmail’s verification message to approve yourself
Search on clubleads@toastmasters.org. Click on Show search options
Create filter button on search options screen
Define filter to forward messages that match your criteria

While you’re at it, you might want to set rules to forward other boilerplate messages from Toastmasters HQ to the appropriate officers.

Get a Toastmasters Club Website in Minutes, Powered by WordPress

You can now create a Toastmasters club website on Toastmost.org, make basic customizations to your meeting agenda, invite others to help you evaluate the software, and start sharpening your marketing message — all within minutes. You can even incorporate features to help you organize online meetings and meetings that include online participation.

Because WordPress for Toastmasters is built on a bundle of products that all have different configuration options — a calendar plugin and my Toastmasters customizations, as well as the underlying site editing and publishing software — club leaders have been telling me they’re overwhelmed at first. The new setup wizard consolidates a lot of the choices you need to make up front, such as how many speakers you have at a typical meeting and whether to invite online guest registration. That becomes a two-step process, followed by pointers on next steps.

Although the tutorial focuses on the Toastmost.org website hosting service, the new setup wizard is also included in the free software version. You are welcome to use Toastmost.org for testing, even if you plan to host your website independently.

I am still looking for help making the documentation better, but meanwhile this is my latest effort to make the software itself easier to learn. Feedback? Write to david@wp4toastmasters.com

Continue reading “Get a Toastmasters Club Website in Minutes, Powered by WordPress”

Replay: WordPress for Speakers and Leaders

Watch and share this replay from my webinar on how to use WordPress for digital marketing. I focused on strategies for professional speaker websites, although the same basic techniques apply to any business or to your Toastmasters club website. The video has been edited, with some errors edited out and the video zoomed in to show details that might have been hard to see during the live event.

Additional notes are included below.

To recap key points (including some I may not have said out loud):

  • I recommend WordPress because it is an Internet standard used by many businesses large and small for their online marketing. When I reviewed a list of top 10 list, I found 8 of 10 great pro speaker websites run on WordPress.
  • WordPress is open source software, meaning it is created by a community of software developers and made freely available to install on any website.
  • The software itself is free, as are many plugins, themes (designs), and services. For a pro speaker or small business website, you will typically find you need to pay some software and services. They include registering a domain, paying for hosting, and potentially purchasing commercial add-ons.
  • You can get a free website at WordPress.com, but you will need to pay for upgrades if you want it to show up at your own domain or give you access to additional business features. I generally recommend setting up an independent website that uses the software.
  • If you hire me to do your website, I prefer to make website hosting part of the package deal I offer so I can get you set up on the hosting from the same company I use for my own projects.
  • You can want to hire a consultant like me to assist you with the design and setup. Or you can take the do-it-yourself approach and learn as you go. It depends partly on whether you’re in a hurry to get something online and how comfortable you are learning new software.
  • Even when someone hires me, I always recommend they learn enough WordPress skills that they could fix a typo or an outdated price on their website without relying on me to do it for them. Certainly, if you want to take advantage of the blogging feature, you’ll want to learn your way around the editor.

Resources from Others

Top 10 Professional Speaker Websites to Inspire You

Creating a speaker website that’s so good, that meeting planners instantly hire you

WordPress Blocks: The Ultimate Guide to Gutenberg Blocks

Some of My Blog Posts

Jetpack: The Swiss Army Knife Plugin for Your Website

Specifically for Toastmasters:

Video: Change the Look of Your Club Website

Terrific Speaker Websites

My WordPress consulting services for professional speakers
terrificspeaker.com

Some of My Other Websites

Toastmost website hosting for Toastmasters

RSVPMaker plugin for event scheduling and registration

My portfolio website davidfcarr.com

Experimental Toastmost.org Feature: Login Without a Password

If you are on the Toastmost service, you may want to experiment with a new feature and let me know how you like it.

This is an alternate way users can authenticate themselves to the website without a password, using a one-time login link. The process is similar the one you use to reset your password, where you are emailed a link that provides access — which is secure as long as you keep your email account secure.

In this case, instead of getting a link that allows you to set your password, the link just logs you in.

This feature is advertised in a link at the bottom of the login page.

Link on the login screen

That link takes you to a page on the main Toastmost.org website where you enter your username and password. Once logged in, you will see a links to the club websites you have access to.

Enter your email or username

Personally, I might use this feature to access the site from a mobile device or a borrowed computer — some situation where I don’t have easy access to my password and don’t want to reset it.

This feature is based on the Passwordless Login plugin for WordPress.