Peter’s Principles – On Giving Back in Business

Peter’s Principles – On Giving Back in Business

“I am sorry but will be unable to answer you anymore in person. I am still fighting a battle with my colon cancer stage 4. Thanks for understanding. Peter Urs Bender”

A long time ago, almost 20 years now, I made a big career move.

Amid much fanfare (most of it self-generated), I resigned from my terrific longtime job at a prominent public relations firm, where 80 per cent of my communication skills coaching assignments were handed to me, to join a small partnership where I had to bring in 90 per cent of my own business.

What was I thinking? Well, I was thinking I was going to be a superstar.

In fact, I struggled right out of the gate.

I got deeply discouraged in a hurry. I realized, shockingly, that I had no clue about how to build a practice. I needed help.

That’s when I turned to a person I hadn’t even met, at least formally.

A presentation skills guru

Peter Urs Bender was a leading presentation skills coach, an outsize personality in our profession. He was highly respected, and highly successful. I’d heard him speak in the late 1990s, and was transformed by the experience. He was magnetic – confident without a trace of arrogance, wonderfully self-deprecating, and authoritative.

I’d watched him intently, recording his movements in my head, and drinking in his best lines. One of his directives, delivered with his expansive Swiss accent, has stayed with me – “start slow,” he said, as in always begin your presentations by speaking slowly.

It was great advice then. It’s great advice now.

So, I’d seen Peter speak, but hadn’t met him.

In early September, 2002, after an article I wrote on the challenges of PowerPoint appeared in The Globe and Mail, Peter left me a congratulatory voicemail. How cool was that? A few days later, an autographed copy of his book, Secrets of Power Presentations, arrived in the mail, and I’d called to thank him.

More than a year later

Now here I was, more than a year later, calling him again – this time, for advice. I figured I could learn from Peter. I thought he could help me.

Of course, he had absolutely no incentive to do so. 

He could have easily blown me off, and most would have. After all, we were, in effect, competitors. What did he have to gain by helping me generate more business?

However, when I contacted him and asked for his counsel, he said: “Sure, let me take you to lunch.”

We met at a large, bustling Chinese restaurant in the suburbs, where all the waiters seemed to know him. It was clear they liked him.

Peter had shown up with an autographed copy of another of his books, Leadership From Within, and a selfless agenda.

For nearly two hours, I grilled him on how he’d become successful. And he told me, patiently distilling years of hard-knock, trial-and-error experience into user-friendly lessons I could take away and employ.

Those lessons have worked more effectively than I could ever have conceived. I think often about our conversation, and a set of beliefs that I call Peter’s principles.

They’re simple. They’re practical. And they work.

They are:

Keep grinding – nothing beats persistence.

Talent means squat if you give up before you have a chance to use it.

When Peter started out as a speaker and workshop leader, cold calls were much more common than the infinitesimally low-percentage outreach they are today. Peter made hundreds of cold calls with that distinctive Swiss intonation. 

Even then, few were returned. He told me that he could go days without having a single prospect get back to him.

Still, he persevered. He believed in himself, and in the value of his offering. When someone did return his call, he often got an appointment. An appointment frequently led to an engagement, and so his business grew.

Persistence, infused with talent, is a heavy-duty blend.

Post or publish for power.

Whether it’s an insightful post on LinkedIn, or an opinion piece for an industry newsletter, getting published gets you noticed.

Those who write knowledgably about their area of expertise are more likely to be considered thought leaders in their field, which of course generates profile, and through that, opportunities.

Peter wrote five books on communication. He self-published, which is great, if you have the promotional ability to drive sales.

Peter had it in spades. He sold his books at his seminars and workshops, and at airport bookstores across Canada. Invariably, his titles would be placed in the most prominent locations within the stores.


Because he worked hard at relationships. Whenever and wherever he traveled, he invited store owners and their families out to dinner, establishing connections that would last for years.

Great placement for his books at the airport stores invariably followed.

‘Ping’ continually.

Consummate networkers call it “pinging,” the perpetual rhythm of quick, upbeat contacts with scores of colleagues, customers, prospects, suppliers, and friends.

Peter pinged non-stop, whether it involved leaving brief, upbeat voicemails, firing off supportive emails, mailing autographed copies of his books, or even sending chocolates.

The chocolates were a bit much for some, but they got him noticed. And remembered.

Pinging helped Peter maintain an impressively wide and extremely loyal network of supporters. Pinging pays off.

Give back – it’s our responsibility.

In a business world that’s becoming ever more transactional, and seemingly less about relationships, Peter’s ideology stands out. 

The irony is that when we make it more about the relationship, and less about the transaction, the business comes – especially repeat business.

Peter knew that, of course, but I believe he would have helped others had there been no prospect of a payoff, immediate, or ever.

My mother used to say that there are two kinds of people in this world, givers and takers. Peter was a giver.

After our lunch, which meant so much to me, he would follow up, encouraging me, letting me know he was in my corner.

In January, 2004, less than three months after our meal, Peter called to tell me that he’d been diagnosed with cancer. He died on March 7th, 2005.

He was 60.

I believed the best way to repay him for his generosity was to dispense it to others. I’ve used his example as a template, although at times, I know, I’ve fallen short.

Peter was a gentleman to the end.

A few days before he died, I emailed him a message of support. The response read:

“I am sorry but will be unable to answer you anymore in person. I am still fighting a battle with my colon cancer stage 4. Thanks for understanding. Peter Urs Bender”

Jim Gray is a Senior Communications Advisor in Oakville, Ontario.

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