Global Meetings

Toastmasters Heads to Asia

The 2014 Toastmasters International Convention marked the first time that the public-speaking organization met outside North America — and was the best-attended event in its 90-year history.

With its global membership on the rise, it’s not surprising that Toastmasters International, an organization that teaches public-speaking and leadership skills, decided to hold its 2014 International Convention in Malaysia. What might be surprising is how seamless the transition to an overseas setting was — especially considering it was the first time in Toastmasters’ 90-year history that the event was held outside of North America.

Not only that, more than 2,500 people attended Toastmasters 2014 at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre on Aug. 20–23 — making it the best-attended convention in Toastmasters history. Here are three reasons why it was so successful, according to CEO Daniel Rex.


Headquartered in Southern California, Toastmasters has more than 313,000 members in more than 14,650 clubs in 126 countries. International membership is growing about 12 percent a year, while North American membership is growing about 5 percent. “Malaysia, India, China, the Middle East, and West Africa have been our areas of fastest growth in the last five years,” Rex said.

Given that Malaysia ranks fourth in number of Toastmasters members, it didn’t take planners long to home in on Kuala Lumpur for this year’s meeting. In addition to its proximity to Asian and South Asian hubs, Malaysia’s melting-pot population and growing professional class were a good fit with Toastmasters’ mission. “It’s a population that is very focused on self-improvement,” Rex said, “and improving and strengthening their nation.”


This year’s convention embraced the international locale with some cultural activities and social events, but the programming remained mostly unchanged. Every Toastmasters club meeting in every country follows the same format: Members give impromptu talks on assigned topics and evaluate one another’s presentations. “There is an immediate, shared understanding when our members come together,” Rex said. “It helps to reduce cultural barriers, and creates a sense of familiarity among members no matter where they meet up.”


Planning a meeting halfway across the globe wasn’t without its challenges — including “getting the materials we needed on site cost-effectively and efficiently,” Rex said. In the past, Toastmasters purchased a large quantity of merchandise (souvenirs, education materials, etc.) that originated in China, was warehoused in the United States, and then sent to the convention site. But that didn’t make sense for Malaysia. So a year before this year’s event, Toastmasters planners met with and selected local printing and merchandising vendors recommended by the Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau. “Having many of our convention-related materials produced locally,” Rex said, “saved us thousands of dollars in shipping.”

Molly Brennan

Convene Contributing Editor Molly Brennan is a freelance writer and editor based in Highland Park, Illinois.