Bronwyn became established as a speaker at schools, parents’ meeting and conferences while she was writing her adolescent health books and the lighthearted “Keeping Mum”. Her agent Jennie Orchard describes how she began:
“Soon after the publication of ‘Anna’s Story’, there was another significant development in Bronwyn’s career. I left HarperCollins and bought a speakers’ agency, Lateral Learning, a company which specialized in organizing educational speaking engagements for a wide variety of individuals, many of them writers publishing for children and young adults. Bronwyn soon started to speak to groups of teachers and students, then conferences, and over the course of the following six years she built a reputation as a wonderful speaker. At the same time Angela Wood gave up her work in the book trade to become a full-time speaker. She and Bronwyn travelled all over Australia telling ‘Anna’s Story’- sometimes together but often individually – making a lasting impact upon all who heard them. And the book began to appear on reading lists and syllabuses in schools all around the country.”
Bronwyn travelled the community speaking circuit for five years, between mid 1997 and mid 2002. A total of 114 engagements throughout Australia were arranged by Lateral Learning.
Click here to see the full list.
For many of her engagements outside Sydney Bronwyn stayed for two or more days, and visited more than one school in the neighbourhood. She endeavoured to speak to the school children during the day and deliver a more comprehensive session to parents in the evenings, often struggling to find time for a rest in between. She reported being asked to deliver a talk or lead discussion groups up to five times in one day, which she found emotionally and physically exhausting but always did her best to comply.
In 2001 Bronwyn devoted most of her time to her novel and, concerned also about her deteriorating health, acccepted only fifteen speaking engagements.
Her Style. Bronwyn’s repertoire of topics increased over the years as she completed her books to comprise drugs, suicide, depression, sexuality, friendship and the trials and tribulations of parenthood. She was quite capable of working all of these topics into a single presentation and frequently did, but was equally adept at filtering her material to suit the audience, in many cases working out a new selection the night before the talk. She always printed out detailed notes for each new version beforehand, but this preparation alone was enough and she never appeared to consult the notes in front of an audience.
Even in normal conversation Bronwyn had a talent for retention of a complex pattern of thoughts. She would launch a central theme and then go off on lengthy tangents, appear to lose the thread, and then, regardless of interruptions, would gradually reel them all in, weave the whole picture together and leave her listeners with that satisfying feeling that all the pieces of the jigsaw had finally been put in place. For this kind of talent public speaking was the perfect platform. This was perhaps her greatest skill, and one that she loved to indulge. (All of her books and particularly her final work of fiction Small Acts of Kindness feature this patchwork-quilt style build-up also.)
Her greatest fear was running out of, or not being allocated enough, time. She frequently spent longer than expected on some of her topics when the audience was particularly receptive, but her presentations remained a carefully constructed fabric which needed all the threads in place to make the picture complete. Even with a daytime audience of schoolchildren, when the topic list was usually restricted to friendships, drugs, depression and occasionally sexuality, she was never comfortable with late starts and short school periods which did not allow her to complete the tapestries she loved to weave. Throughout it all she was entertaining. She frequently spoke for two hours at a time, often amazing many of her adult listeners who did not believe they themselves, let alone their children, could be held captive for so long by any speaker.
Click here for feedback from some of Bronwyn’s audiences.
What She Said. Bronwyn herself devised all the material for her speeches. She did this because the main messages she wanted to impart came not from the news, nor from school curricula, nor from statistics, not from medical journals nor specialists, nor from anyone else: they came from her own knowledge, intiution, experience and principals.
Bronwyn had a passion for life and particularly loved young people. She did not need to read clinical reports or newspapers to deduce that factors such as drugs, alcohol, family break-up, isolation and casual sex had the potential to destroy a young life, even end it prematurely, and that it was all too easy for vulnerable adolescents to be caught up by popular hype from the media and their friends. Bronwyn armed herself with the clinical facts and statistics, but simply to illustrate and reinforce a message which came from the heart and was transmitted to the heart. She did not appeal to their sense of logic but to their emotions. Confronted wth a room-full of teenagers, she would instinctively marvel at their beauty, their smiles, their raw talents and skills, the depth of their friendships. She would begin by telling them so. She told them about their enormous potential waiting to be fulfilled in a world where their greatest gift was life itself, as well as their friendships, their families and the beautiful country they lived in. She told them that each of them was good at something. She told them that each one had the capacity to develop that unique skill and use it to influence and help people around them. On being good at things.
Bronwyn usually went on to talk about her own school days and how she became a writer because it was, she said, the thing that she was good at. She was “bursting with adjectives”. (Quotes: that sentence). In many cases her young audience were extremely interested in writing and journalism as a career, and Bronwyn would elaborate a bit on writing as a skill and journalism as a career. But she also used this sequence to emphasise that she spoke to them as a professional writer and a concerned parent, not as a doctor, teacher, counsellor or clinical expert. This led to the account of the writing of “Anna’s Story” and the sobering episode of the death of Anna Wood. Bronwyn would confide that she twice made the mistake of believing that any family in which a child had died from drugs or suicide had to be abnormal in some way. She emphasised how she had quickly realised that these were normal families in abnormal circumstances, and that tragedies like this could happen to anybody.
She spoke about and even dramatised the effects of drugs on the brain, the highs and lows they cause in the oxygen supply, the onset of depression and long term cell damage. She moved smoothly from drugs to depression and sexuality, gently but firmly making it clear that unpleasant or tragic experiences were often related to all three issues. Of twenty suidice cases which she investigated, all but one were regular drug users. “One third of teenagers who have had sex did it while they were drunk or high, usually with someone they didn’t know or like,” she said.
The information she presented was compelling, the way in which she presented it irrestistible.
Bronwyn was equally comfortable talking to parents, whom she regarded as her peers, sensible people who already knew what she was going to tell them but who needed to be reminded that they were not alone or different from their counterparts. She frequently had both audiences in tears, whether from crying or laughing they were often unable to tell. She freely spoke about her own mistakes and frustrations, but above all emphasised the importance of communication, and of listening to their children. Quotes – on teenagers.
She was always eager to return to the funny side of parenting, and had a huge reportoire of stories available from her “Keeping Mum” collection. One of her favourite recurring themes was Mother’s Day, always a good platform to promote the book.
Bronwyn was often to be heard on radio, discussing health issues and parenting with show hosts, panelists and talkback listeners. She also appeared frequently on TV talk shows such as Bert Newton’s Good Morning Australia, Monday to Friday, the Midday Show and What’s Cooking.