A new option I recommend Toastmasters clubs meeting online consider for displaying timing signals is an app that displays the timing signals as an extra “participant” in Zoom meetings. The creator, Zoom Blue Sky Apps, has agreed to offer a 50% discount off the pro version pricing to Toastmasters clubs. Follow this promo link to try it for free and consider whether the deal makes sense for you.
Disclosure: BlueSky is giving my home club, Online Presenters, a freebie subscription as consideration for promoting their app. We tested it at OP earlier this week, and a representative of the company visited us.
BlueSky noticed I had some search engine traction on the phrase “Zoom timer” as a result of creating my the WP for Toastmasters web-based timer that you can share as a background image using something like OBS Studio. The beauty of their solution is it does not require any additional software.
While I still like my own timer for the way it syncs with the agenda, the best of both worlds answer would be to find a way of integrating my software with BlueSky’s. They haven’t made me any promises, but maybe if the Toastmasters world shows enough interest?
At a minimum, I suggest you check out the free trial.
WordPress for Toastmasters has a new online timer tool that was particularly designed for online clubs, although it could also be useful for brick-and-mortar clubs who would like to use a laptop or a digital display in their meeting room to display timing indicators. Online Timer is a new option on the Agenda menu.
And is here is what it looks like on a mobile phone:
The online timer is based partly on another open source software product, Toastmasters Timer by Guy Ellis, who did a lot of the hard work in terms of getting the math right for timing calculations. I’ve added some things to make it suitable for use by an online club.
Whenever the Timer hits the stop button, the time for that speech or other activity is logged on the left hand side of the screen. If you include the speaker’s name, either manually or by clicking one of the buttons with the name of a speaker (pulled from the agenda), their name will be shown above the time record. One of the things we’ve done at my Online Presenters club is enter the times into the chat in Zoom, and having the times automatically logged should make it easy to copy and paste them. I think it could be worth using this tool for that purpose alone, even without the screen sharing.
The online timer can also be set up to sound a chime when each timing benchmark is past (useful because speakers sometimes lose track of the video feed from the timer — at least my club has had that issue with the Zoom video conferencing platform).
Update: The instructions for getting the automated chime to sound in an online meeting are included below, but I’ve had second thoughts on whether it’s more trouble than it’s worth. I think the biggest value of this tool is to fetch speech times from the agenda, make the green/yellow/red indicators appear like clockwork, and produce a log of the times for each speaker.
Here is an example of how this is meant to be displayed in Zoom.
In addition to the details shared in the video, there were a few other details I needed to get right to make it work properly for online screen sharing.
One thing that threw me is that the timing digits (if displayed) appear backwards to me when I see my own image in Zoom. However, the numbers are readable to all the other participants. This has something to do with the fact that we’re all used to seeing ourselves in a mirror, so Zoom displays a mirrored image of the feed from our own webcam, and this same effect is applied to any image I project using Webcam software. (An earlier version of this blog advised people to use a mirroring effect in SparkoCam to “correct” for this effect, but that would only make it look right to me and wrong to everyone else).
If you want people to hear the chime at green / yellow / red, you need to set SparkoCam to capture system sound.
And also tell Zoom to use SparkoCam as your audio source, rather than your microphone.
Note that with the settings I’m showing here, you would have to switch the audio feed back to your microphone the next time you want to talk. By selecting system sound and no other audio source, I’m effectively muting my microphone. (It’s supposed to be possible to add your microphone feed to the SparkoCam audio as well, but I don’t have that working yet.)
Again, this is all experimental, so give me your feedback if you discover a better way.
Update: just figured out it’s also possible to do a picture-in-picture effect with the desktop feed in SparkoCam if you don’t want your picture to go away. You click the + button in the Webcam panel to add an additional source you want to include with your webcam video. Then turn on the desktop sharing.
BTW, I show the option to select a part of your desktop in the video tutorial above partly because I could not get a couple of the other options to work. SparkoCam on Windows 10 crashed repeatedly when I tried the “Application window” and “Follow cursor” options.
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