Winning Body Language

"It is not what you say that matters but the manner in which you say it; there lies the secret of the ages."

- Winning Body Language, page 7

How are you sitting right now? What is it saying to people around you? Did you just sit up a little straighter? How much thought do you put into what your body is saying when your mouth is talking?

Mark Bowden is an elite trainer to G8 Leaders, Fortune 50 CEOs, and business people who want to gain an advantage beyond the words they speak. We can benefit from his lessons too since he packaged them in a step-by-step guide in his book Winning Body Language.

The bottom line, you will improve your ability to communicate and persuade. His lessons help you achieve consistency between the messages you send verbally and those you send nonverbally. Introducing us to the various “planes” of our body, Bowden shows us what not to do and what to do to gain trust and influence.


The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Your body can be louder than your words

"…the nonverbal cues are more than 10 times as important in your audience perceiving your belief or conviction concerning the material."
- Winning Body Language, page 7

If you are interested in persuading and influencing others, you should be aware that your body may not be supporting your words. Imagine if you took control and focused your body to support your message. Compared to the brain, it is a much larger organ and it can quickly draw the minds of everyone around you into or out of alignment.

You likely remember Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 percent rule. Before his research, we all guessed that words would be the most impactful element of communication between words, tone of voice, and body language. He threw that thinking upside down with his claim that body language accounts for 55% of a receiver’s understanding, tone of voice accounts for 38% while words are responsible for only the remaining 7%. Think about that. The feeling, attitude or intent of our communication is almost entirely dependent on the non-verbal message (93%), not on what we say! So let’s increase our awareness of what to do and not to do with our body language.

Bowden talks about where our hands are when our mouth is talking. He divides the body into the GesturePlane System. Above the head is “ecstasy”, from the temple to the top of the head is “thought”, from the chin to the nose is “disclosure”, from the waist to the chin is “passion”, the waist itself is “truth”, below the waist is “grotesque” (from the word cave or meaning hidden and thus untrustworthy). So, keep these planes in mind when you move your hands. What are you trying to communicate?

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

A tip to reduce anxiety while presenting

"...this physical positioning of the hands at the height of the belly and open: across all cultures and across all times, is the strongest symbol for ‘you can trust me’."
- Winning Body Language, page 56

If you are like 95% of the population, you will experience some anxiety over presentations. Want a quick tip to reduce this anxiety?

Most presenters make the common mistake of standing still and dropping their hands down to their side when presenting. In fact, they have often been trained to do this! But don’t! When you stand still with your arms hanging down, the body takes this as a signal to rest, or even sleep. The voice follows and drops in tone.

This standing with your arms at your side position may also subconsciously tell your body that you are now a static target. Your body responds by “playing dead”. After all, if I am in danger (the audience could eat me alive) and I can’t move, then I better pretend to be dead or very weak so I won’t get eaten. It’s just evolution working. In both situations, the audience quickly mirrors the relaxation and trances out.

Rather, simply raise your hands to your “TruthPlane” above your waistline. This serves as a counter measure to the physical effects of the anxiety. Most people describe the feeling that they get from having their hands around the navel area as being ‘centred’, ‘collected’, ‘composed’ or ‘calm’. They feel more levelheaded, balanced and energized. The audience perceives and aura of calm, professionalism.

As a professional speaker, I always wondered what the heck to do with my hands and this tip really helped. I now hold my elbows at my side with my hands at waist height extended toward the audience with my palms facing upward and toward each other. To make points I will move my hands or bring my fingers together. The “truthplane” is now their home base.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Do you really mean it?

"…my eyes were opened to the extreme power in the body to understand and change psychological and emotional states. (More so than thought, intention and feeling can ever do by themselves)."
- Winning Body Language, page 28

The sun is setting and the campfire is aglow with crackling flames and golden red embers. You hear the peaceful cry of the loon just off the shore. Everything is perfect. As you stand together looking out over the lake, he puts his hands in his pockets and utters the words you were waiting to hear “I love you”. But wait, something isn’t quite right. What is it? Did you see it – the conflict between the words and the body language?

Let’s try that again….

The sun is setting and the campfire is aglow with crackling flames and golden red embers. You hear the peaceful cry of the loon just off the shore. Everything is perfect. As you stand together looking out over the lake, he turns to you, cups his hands over each other on his chest and utters the words you were waiting to hear “I love you”.

Ah, that’s better. In the first example, his body wasn’t mirroring his words. With his hands in his pockets, they are hidden from sight. This causes distrust. In the second example they were on his chest which communicates his passion.

Bowden teaches us the “PassionPlane”–where your hands should be–to express passion. When your hands come up to your chest when you gesture and speak there is an energetic buzz. Try it yourself. Say “I love you” with your hands down to your side. Now move your hands up to your chest and say it. Feel the difference?

A passionate, energized body will impact how well your message is received. The audience responds in wonderful ways because they can’t help but feel and mirror your excitement. Your audience will never rise above your level of enthusiasm. I’m not so shy to gesture with my hands now from the stage.


What is the vocabulary of your body language? Bowden illuminates an important nonverbal aspect that can help or hinder your ability to influence and persuade. Being more aware is the first step. Understanding the various planes and what they communicate is the next.

Oh, a final quick tip. Would you like people to feel instantly engaged and immediately like you when they meet you? It all starts with the handshake Bowden says. When you shake hands, simply turn the other person’s hand quickly and gently so that it is slightly over yours, and at the same time quickly and gently move both yours and his clasped hands closer toward and into your vulnerable stomach area (right at a level with the belly button – the TruthPlane). I think I’ll give it a try! What are you going to try? What does your body say to your audience?

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Jill Donahue

ABOUT Jill Donahue

Everything I do is focused on improving patient outcomes. I do that by being a student and teacher of ethical, effective influence. I teach pharma people and health care professionals how to improve their ability to influence others...
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