Zoom Tip: Keep the Timer Visible to Everyone

Here is a tip for making sure all speakers will be able to see the Timer in a meeting or contest conducted on Zoom. This is an action that must be taken by the meeting Host (not a Co-host) that benefits all participants.

Placing the Timer in the upper right hand corner, using Follow Host’s Video Order

In Zoom Toastmasters meetings, the person playing the role of Timer typically shows green, yellow, and red signals background images as “timing lights” to let speakers know when they are running out of time. This use of the Zoom virtual background feature fairly well, except when the speaker loses track of the timer — which can be easy to do because of the way Zoom automatically reorders thumbnail video images according to some weird AI logic. People often get flustered when they get called for Table Topics and realize they can’t see the Timer.

I used to tell individual participants to go into gallery view, then drag-and-drop the image of the Timer into the upper right hand corner of the screen. This keeps the Timer visible in the same position in Gallery view throughout the meeting. Also, in full screen view, or when the speaker shares their screen, the Timer will still be at the beginning of the smaller film strip view that Zoom shows of other participants.

This self-service method works, but it puts the burden on each member (or guest) to rearrange their screen.

Instead, the Host can rearrange the video order for everyone by dragging and dropping the Timer into the upper left corner, and then selecting the Follow Host’s Video Order option on the View menu. That’s the same menu in the upper right corner of the screen that you use to toggle between Speaker view and Gallery view. However, the Follow Host’s Video Order option is only displayed to the Host.

This method sets everyone’s gallery view order to match the the Host’s choices. The Timer will stay locked in the upper right hand corner, and any people who join after the order was set will go to the end of the list. About the only thing that will mess this up is if the Timer gets disconnected and has to rejoin the meeting.

Caveat: You should turn this on before using other Zoom features that dictate the audience’s view, like Spotlight, because the Follow Host menu option is not visible when that’s active. (Thanks to Steve Crews for pointing that out in a discussion on TI Official Members group).

Although I’d heard something like this was possible, it took me a while to figure out how to do it because I often join meetings as a Co-host. For the most part, Co-hosts can perform all the same actions as Hosts, but this feature turns out to be one of the few exceptions.

Setting the video order is a small thing we can do to make participating in a Toastmasters meeting easier on everyone.

Search and Social Optimization Tips from the Online Presenters Webmaster

The way you make your club website into a stronger recruiting tool is by making links to your website visible and attractive in the digital world.

Google “online Toastmasters,” and a link to the Online Presenters home page will come up high on the first page of results. Share a link to our home page on Facebook, and you will see it’s accompanied by a neat preview image as shown below. Both are the result of deliberate effort to raise our club website’s profile.

Facebook preview of our home page

Here are some of the techniques I use. I apply them particularly to the home page and significant blog posts, like those featuring the replays of workshops we have hosted. Some of these techniques take advantage of optional WordPress plugins. However, the basics of search engine optimization are available to any club webmaster, including those whose clubs use Free Toast Host.

Search Engine Optimization Basics

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art of structing web content so that it’s indexed better and ranks better in Google and other search engines. There are SEO professionals who spend all day trying to boost traffic to a website by a percentage point and whose techniques are far more sophisticated than I’ll describe here. But you can make a difference just by getting the basics right.

Keywords

Come up with a list of target keywords that describe the character of your club and use them strategically on your home page and other pages of the site. For example, you’d want “comedy,” “humor,” and “Saint Paul” to feature frequently in the page titles, links, and home page introductory text of a club in Saint Paul, Minnesota focused on humorous speaking.

I have seen a lot of club and district websites that do not clearly state where in the world they are based, which is important for prospective members seeking local resources. If you accept online attendance, that should be spelled out, too. Both humans and search engines will understand what you have to offer if you state it plainly.

Also, many clubs list their club number prominently at the top of the page. Who cares what your club number is? Certainly not a prospective member. That space would much better be used for your location or some other significant fact about your club. List the club number for reference by members (who might periodically need to enter it on a form) somewhere lower on the page.

Headings

Structure your pages with subheadings, which should use the heading levels corresponding to the HTML tags H1, H2, H3 and so on. Think of this as being similar to the outline of an essay, as you may have been taught to write one in school, with major topics and subtopics. These become clues to the search engines about the important topics discussed on the page.

In WordPress, you choose the heading block instead of the paragraph block and select the specific heading level, as shown here:

Formatting a heading in WordPress

In the FreeToastHost editor, you would select the line of text you want formatted as a headline and change it from paragraph (the default) to the heading level of your choice.

Setting heading levels in FreeToastHost.

Site Title and Description

In addition to the visible headings on the page, search engines use title and description tags embedded in the HTML both to understand the content of the page and for display in search results listings. They determine what someone searching for a club like yours will see that makes them decide whether or not to click on a link.

If a description is missing, the search engines will use the first few words on the page — which isn’t necessarily what you’d want as a succinct summary of the value of your site. On many club websites, the description is missing or inappropriate — for example, one I happened across had “Contest rules” showing as if that was the only information you would find on that site.

I’ll detail how to customize these summary blurbs for both search and social media on a WordPress site later in this article. On FreeToastHost, the site title and description can be set on the Basic Settings tab.

Links

Search engines also analyze the web of links between pages to divine what is important and worth indexing with a higher ranking. One of the things you get with a WordPress site is the ability to add more pages and blog articles that can be focused on different topics and rank higher for those topics. Ideally, you will be share valuable information others will want to link to, further driving up the value of that content.

For example, next to the home page, the two web addresses that drive the most traffic to op.toastmost.org are an article on roles and responsibilities in an online toastmasters meeting, the replay of a workshop on hybrid meetings, and my blog post from a couple of years ago on how to start your slides more smoothly in Zoom.

I’m giving each of those articles another little boost by linking to them here and using relevant keywords in the text of the link. It’s less effective to structure the same reference as, “for the replay, click here” where the word “here” doesn’t say anything about what the link points to.

Bullet Lists and Ordered Lists

Like headlines, bullet lists and numbered lists add structure to your page that search engines can understand. For example, a numbered list is a clue that you’re providing a sequence of instructions. For example, if you do not already have a Toastmost account, to set up a Toastmost website you must:

  1. Sign up for the WordPress for Toastmasters mailing list, which you can do on the toastmost.org home page.
  2. Confirm your subscription to the list.
  3. Follow the link from the confirmation message to the page where you will set up your website.

In WordPress, “list” is a content block type like “paragraph” or “heading” and you can choose between numbered/ordered lists and bullet/unordered lists. In the FreeToastHost editor, you will see buttons on the formatting bar for these list types.

Search and Social Enhancements with a WordPress Plugin

One of the optional but very useful WordPress plugins for making your website more visible in search and on social media is Yoast SEO. You might also try a similar plugin, Rank Math WEO, which I’ve heard great things about but have less experience with. Both are available on Toastmost (just search the Plugins tab in the dashboard) and available to install for free on other WordPress sites. Premium upgrades are available, but you will get plenty of value from the free versions.

With Yoast active, I get an additional panel of controls at the bottom of each web page, blog post, and event post. There is also a Yoast sidebar where the same features can be accessed.

Yoast SEO controls

This allows me to customize the title and description fields I mentioned above, which are important for search engine optimization. The plugin also provides feedback on whether the “focus keywords” you’re targeting are mentioned often enough on the page and how readable the language is (for example, if you’re using too many long sentences).

As a volunteer webmaster, you don’t have infinite time to futz with these parameters, but you can take a few minutes to improve your score at least a little.

I pay particular attention to the Social tab in Yoast SEO, which allows me to manually set the featured image that should be displayed when an individual page or post is displayed on social media. That’s one of the things you can’t do at all (as far as I can tell) with FreeToastHost. If there is, even the folks who run the service don’t know it.

Facebook preview for toastmastersclubs.org

The Social tab of Yoast SEO lets me upload an image (or choose one from my media library) to add to social posts for Facebook and Twitter. (LinkedIn will also pick up on what’s specified for Facebook).

Facebook preview settings in Yoast SEO

One additional step I sometimes take is to test a link using the Facebook “debugging” tool for content sharing. This can be important if I’m adding or changing the preview image or text for an item that has been shared previously, where Facebook will use the previously cached content unless I tell it to check again (the button is labeled Scrape Again). This screen will give you technical data you probably don’t care about, but it will also show you how your content will be displayed on the service.

Facebook’s tool for debugging link sharing

A LinkedIn post inspector tool serves the same purpose for that service.

You can encourage viewers of your website to share blog posts by adding “share this” buttons for popular social networks. The sharing buttons on this site were set up using the Jetpack, the “Swiss army knife of plugins” from the company behind WordPress. You blowing your horn on social media is one thing, but having other people recommend you and your content is even better.

Featured Posts Display

One other tool I have found handy for formatting a website home page with SEO-rich content is the “Post Grid” content block from the Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg plugin.

Gutenberg is the codename for the version of the WordPress editor that’s structured around blocks of content. In addition to basic blocks like paragraphs, headings, and images, there are blocks that define layouts like columns, and blocks that serve as placeholders for dynamic content like the most recently posted blogs or upcoming meetings on your event calendar.

Post Grid is one of those dynamic blocks. You can set it to display the latest posts to your blog, or the latest posts in a specified category. Other parameters include how many posts should be displayed, and how many columns should be used for the layout. The preview displayed in the editor is approximately what will appear on the website (in this case, the headlines on the live site aren’t as crowded as they appear in the editor). WordPress columns are also responsive, meaning that they reformat to display in fewer columns or a single column if viewed on a small-screen device such as a phone.

Post Grid block in the editor

In this case, to get the preview image to display properly, I need to set the Featured Image for the individual blog posts. This option is found in the settings sidebar of the editor under Post (as opposed to the settings for an individual block within the post).

Setting the Featured Image

This can be the same featured image you use on social media, but it doesn’t have to be.

A Little Effort Can Make a Big Difference

To be clear, I haven’t gone through every step on this list for every page and post of every site I have worked on, and I don’t expect you to, either. However, if you do it when it really matters, the effort will pay off.

Online Presenters’ April 5 Open House

Come to the April 5th Open House. No fooling, April is a great time for guests to make a first-time or repeat visit to Online Presenters. Members can celebrate and showcase the excellence and diversity in our global membership. .

We’ll be revealing what makes Online Presenters so oustanding, including high-caliber evaluations, excellent leaders, and globally-diverse members.

A different kind of meeting?? Yes. Past club presidents will offer special reflections, a single speaker will receive 3 expert evaluations. Table Topics will elicit #MyWhy responses about being part of this premier online-only Toastmaster Club.

Non-members can RSVP – register their desire to guest-visit (and will receive a reminder email with the meeting link.)

SHOW YOUR COLORS. All attendees are invited to download their country/state flag or representation of heritage to use as a background — help celebrate the richness of the global membership in Toastmasters, and cultural diversity within our Online Presenters family.

Members – share this post to help “fill the house” with guests on April 5th. See you there!

Replay: Jim Barber Wins Club’s Video Speech Contest 2021

Congratulations to our winners, Jim Barber, 1st place, Mike Woodall, 2nd place, and contestants Andriy Smolenko  and Ginette François. This is from the contest conducted March 22, 2021.

The winning speech: “A Hero’s Journey” by Jim Barber

The Video Speech contest is a variation on the International Speech contest for undistricted clubs, whose winners don’t progress to area, division, and district contests. The video of the winning speech will be submitted to Toastmasters International to be judged alongside entries from other undistricted clubs, with a winner announced at the International Convention.

Join Us for VTM CON 2020 on Dec 5

Online Presenters is one of 6 online Toastmasters clubs organizing this professional education event, co-chaired by Nik Lakhani and Lois Margolin.

Register: bit.ly/VTMCON2020 Info: vtm.toastmost.org

Featuring 2 inter-club contests (Table Topics and Evaluation) and 5 workshops:

Please “like” our Facebook page facebook.com/vtmcon and share one or more of our promotional posts with your network.

Workshop on Hybrid Online/Offline Toastmasters Meetings: Replay

As Toastmasters clubs driven online by COVID-19 resume in person meetings, many will be thinking about how to continue to invite online participation. There are many good reasons for operating in a hybrid format, but club leaders need to be aware of the pitfalls and the investment in equipment that may be necessary.

This video is from a July 25, 2020 workshop on running meetings with both online and offline attendance — the technical and leadership challenges of doing it right. Below, we’ve also shared some specific equipment recommendations related to improving the audio quality for these meetings, which is one of the tricky parts.

Presenters and panel participants included:

  • Lois Margolin
  • Graham Cairns
  • Birgit Starmanns
  • Michael Alexander
  • Moira O’Brien

Host: Nik Lakhani, President, Online Presenters

Panel Moderator: David F. Carr

General Recommendations

From a leadership standpoint, think about how you will include local and remote participants equally.

For technology setup, the most important thing is ensuring audio quality. Even if the video quality is wonderful, not being able to hear a speaker undermines the whole point of a Toastmasters meeting.

Sample hybrid room setup from Moira’s slides

For video, best practice is to have feeds from 2 different cameras in the room, one pointed toward the speaking area and the other toward the audience. The image above (which you can see better by downloading Moira’s slides) will give you an idea of how that works.

To make it all work, your club should have (or train) at least a couple of people who can cover the room setup and tech setup details for every meeting. Possibly “Zoom master” or “tech master” could be a rotating role, if you have a few people who can handle it.

Hardware Recommendations

Clubs may have to adjust this shopping list to what they can reasonably do within their budget. During the program, Graham Cairns suggested clubs might start out with whatever equipment individual members are willing to share and then phase in purchases of club-owned equivalents.

A couple of key purchases Moira O’Brien recommended are a compact wireless microphone and a webcam that can be mounded on a tripod. Here are Amazon links and prices for those items.

Rode Wireless Go Premium Pack with Lavalier Go and SC4 – $339 USD
https://www.amazon.com/Rode-Wireless-Premium-Pack-Lavalier/dp/B07Y2VV6YW/

Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920, Widescreen Video Calling and Recording, 1080p Camera, Desktop or Laptop Webcam $125.00 USD
https://www.amazon.com/Logitech-Widescreen-Calling-Recording-Desktop/dp/B006JH8T3S/

Other equipment that is required may vary depending on your meeting space, for example whether there is a speaker system you can tap into. If not, purchasing a wired or wireless speaker might also be necessary. Some spaces may have adequate lighting, while for others you might need to bring in additional lighting.

Less expensive options than those cited here may work for you, including tech based on smart phone apps.

During the discussion later in the meeting, one of our guests Sunny Fridge mentioned a different microphone that worked for one of her clubs:

HeyMic!
$88 currently backordered from https://loveheymic.com/checkouts/checkouts/

If you have other recommendations, write to david@wp4toastmasters.com and we’ll consider adding them here.