Glossophobia. It is derived from a Greek word, glossa, which means “toungue.” Glossophobia is the fear of speaking in public, and it affects up to 75% of the population. This anxiety disorder causes heart rates to rise, breathing to quicken, palms to sweat, and general nausea. I remember giving my first speech in Speech 101 during my undergraduate experience at college. I was a total nervous wreck, stumbled through my speech, and felt sick before, during, and after! Not so today – I actually look forward to speaking publicly, but I’m in the minority.
When you ask a person to read a passage of Scripture in your Bible study group, don’t forget that 75% of people have an anxiety about speaking out loud in public. Your group Bible study should be a place of safety for all, so here are some guidelines that might help you serve the people in your group who struggle with glossophobia:
- Ask for volunteers. Asking for volunteers allows people who are fearful to speak in public to have an “out.” Normally others in the group will volunteer to read passages, and your shy members can enjoy listening in while someone else does the reading and speaking.
- Don’t force anyone to read or to respond to a question. While you may be perfectly comfortable in your speaking/teaching role, others are not as receptive to speaking up in a group. The best strategy is to learn who those people are, and never coerce or chide them into speaking when they don’t want to.
- Have fun and set some ground rules. One thing I’ve done in my Bible study group is to give all of us, me included, permission to skip over hard-to-pronounce words. We have fun with that by replacing a difficult word (a person’s name, the name of a city, or some other word) with the phrase “hard word.” Every time we do that, people smile and acknowledge that some words are difficult to pronounce! Here is how that would work if a person in my group was reading 2 Samuel 4: “Saul’s son Jonathan had a son whose feet were crippled…his name was ‘hard word.'” In this verse, the reader would have replaced the son’s name (Mephibosheth) with the phrase “hard word.”
- Consider breaking your group into smaller buzz groups. If you want to create a more inviting environment in which your shy group members speak out loud, break the group down into smaller 3 to 4 person “buzz groups.” While people may have an aversion to speaking in front of a larger group, most are comfortable when the group size is very small. Buzz groups also boost conversation and help people build relationships during the group Bible study.