JUNE 29, 2017 – On a recent Thursday evening, 12 people gathered around a U-shaped set of tables in the all-purpose room on the second floor of the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore. It looked like any other group preparing for a business meeting but the people don’t work at the same firm. They belong to the JCCNS Toastmasters Club 3743398 in Marblehead.
“I thought that this would be a good place to build community, with other Jews,” explained Roberta Chadis, who started the chapter at the JCC almost three years ago. Toastmasters, which has over 345,000 members in 142 countries, is an organization that helps people improve their public speaking skills. At the meetings, members, like Chadis, deliver speeches and receive feedback from fellow colleagues. The group meets the first and third Thursday of the month at 7 p.m.
At around 7 o’clock, Tom Cheatham opened the meeting. Cheatham, who is the JCC’s chief financial officer, was finishing up his term as president. Cheatham stood adjacent to a large framed photo of the Western Wall, and explained that it was time to hold new elections. After a brief vote, the group elected Karen Bradford, of Swampscott, as its new president.
Over the next 90 minutes, several people stood near the podium and gave short speeches on subjects that ranged from general dentistry to how one posts bail after an arrest. Not everyone gave a speech; others, like Bradford, served as the grammarian, evaluating the speakers’ use of syntax. Cindy Blonder was the “Ah Counter” for the evening, keeping track of how many times people used the words ah and um.
When the meeting ended, members stood around schmoozing and complimenting those who had spoken. “There’s a lot of positive reinforcement here,” said Chadis.
When asked if she had a platform as the incoming president, Bradford paused for a moment. Said the executive recruiter, “I want to make this a distinguished club and help everyone to further their public speaking and leadership skills.”