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From The Globe and Mail, Friday, July 15, 2005

Peter’s principles: lessons learned from a coaching vet

Jim Gray

In the summer of 2003, I made a big career move.

But only months into my new life as an entrepreneur, I was discouraged and all of a sudden uncertain about how to build a business. I needed help.

That’s when I turned to a person I hadn’t even met. Peter Urs Bender was a fellow presentation skills coach – and an outsized personality on the Canadian speakers circuit. I’d attended a workshop he conducted at the Toronto Board of Trade in the late 1990s.

I remember watching him intently, recording his movements and drinking in his best lines, delivered with his expansive Swiss accent. He was magnetic -- confident without a trace of arrogance, self-deprecating, accessible and authoritative.

Over the years, Peter and I had spoken a few times over the phone and traded some email messages, but never conversed face-to-face. Now here I was, calling for advice on how I could develop a prosperous enterprise like his.

We met for lunch, and for two hours I interrogated him about how he’d become successful. He told me, distilling years of hard-knock experience into lessons that I could take away and employ.

I call them Peter’s principles.

Nothing trumps persistence

Talent means squat if you give up before you have a chance to use it. Starting out as a speaker and workshop leader, Peter made hundreds of cold calls with his distinctive intonation. Of course, few were returned.

Still, he persevered. He believed in himself and the value of his offering. When a prospective client did get back to him, he would often manage to arrange an appointment. An appointment frequently led to an assignment.

There’s no way around it – to build a business, you need to make the calls.

Publish for power

Whether it’s an article for your company newsletter, an opinion piece for an industry trade magazine or a book, getting published gets you noticed. Those who write insightfully about their area of expertise are more likely to be considered thought leaders in their field, which can open up significant career opportunities.

Peter wrote five books on communication. He self-published, a strategy that works only if you have the promotional ability to drive sales.

Peter had it in spades. He sold his books at his seminars and workshops.

To ascend to the next level in credibility and earnings, you have to do a book. Then you have to aggressively promote it.

Personal relationships count

If you’ve ever wandered by a bookstore in any Canadian airport, you’ve seen Peter’s titles, often placed on the most prominent shelf.

That’s because he worked hard at placement, building relationships with the owners of airport bookstores across the country.

Whenever and wherever he traveled, he invited owners and their families out to dinner, establishing connections that would last for years.

‘Ping’ continually

Consummate networkers call it ‘pinging’, the staccato rhythm of quick, upbeat contacts with scores of customers, colleagues, prospects, reporters – and yes, competitors.

Peter pinged non-stop, whether it involved leaving friendly voicemail messages, firing off supportive e-mails, mailing personalized copies of his books or sending chocolates.

Pinging helped him maintain an impressively wide and loyal network of friends, supporters and associates. Pinging pays off.

We have a responsibility to give back

In today’s business world, where few seem to have time for anyone else, let alone a faltering colleague, Peter’s ideology stands out.

Yes, life is tough and business is brutal and we’re really busy. But giving back is essential to our careers.

Why? We’ll always need others to help us build and maintain success. Sometimes, those ‘others’ won’t be in a position to do much for us right now. But today’s downsized vice-president might be tomorrow’s in-demand marketing director, and able to assist us mightily.

So doesn’t it just make decent career management sense to help as many people as you can?

Peter died in March, after battling cancer for more than a year. He was 60 years old.

I figure the best way to repay him for his generosity is to dispense it to others. I’ll use his example as a template.

Jim Gray, a Toronto-based communication coach, speaks on how to present effectively and conducts seminars in media and presentation skills.

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