Winning Body Language by Mark Bowden: Summary & Review

“Winning Body Language” focuses on the emotions that your gestures generate and what they communicate to the audience and the people around them.

Exec Summary

  • Keep your hands at the navel level to relax and send a message of trust
  • Give people the upper hand and accept them fully (Yes State) to make them feel great
  • Use an indeterminate smile to draw people in

Full Summary

Mark Bowden starts by saying that most business presenters do it all wrong with their body language.

For example, many have their hands by the side, hunch over their shoulders, and crunch their stomach in.
Some even tuck their head in, narrow their eyes and move around.

This is all wrong, the author says, because this is what the human body naturally does when we are getting ready to attack or to face an attacker.

We lower our center of gravity to be more grounded, to duck more easily and we move around so as to stay a moving target and jump more easily if needed.

Other signs of flight or fight are moving to the angle of the audience to decrease our vulnerable area and to hide behind an object.

Now the issue with that is that we mirror what we see other human beings do.
And if the message we send is a nervous and aggressive one of flight or fight, that’s what the audience will be feeling.

Hands Position: The Truth Plane

Never drop your hands by your side and never stand still.

Even if that’s what many presentations of training recommend: S.

Instead, the universal signal that lets everyone know you have good and positive intentions is to gesture on a horizontal plane originating at the navel.

Mark Bowden calls the plane originating from the navel the “Truth Plane”. Keeping your hands in the Truth Plane will also naturally let you fight anxiety and helps you relax.

The author also speaks about a client of his who was extremely tense about public speaking.
The suggestion of positive self-talk of his colleague was utterly useless.

Bowden is indeed of the opinion that in almost all cases of stage fright battling the fear is useless.
Instead, he told him to accept his anxiety for what it is, embrace it, and counter it with hands in the Truth Plane. It worked like a charm.

Inbreath VS Out Breath

Mark Bowden says that “breathing from the belly” is not the magic pill that will instantly make you an effective presenter.

Instead, he says to breathe effectively you need to imagine a string is pulling you up from the crown of your head, lengthening your spine and at the same time making sure you stay well connected to the ground.

When you breathe with this position, Mark Bowden says, you are mostly in the in-breath position. The in-breath inspires the audience, and the out-breath expires them.

My Note:
This is opposite to Vanessa’s suggestion on speaking after having breathed out to sound like you have a deeper voice (body language of love).

Passion Plane

The Passion Plane expands from our chest area.

When gesticulating from this level you raise the energy level.
The Passion Plane can also come across as aggressive, so Mark Bowden says you want to use the Passion Plane for content that is exciting and energetic, and you want to communicate from the Truth Plane for content that you want to come across as honest and sincerely felt.

I liked Mark Bowden’s example of a business situation in which a woman calms an irate customer by sitting down-thus staying physically lower-, exposing her belly by moving the chair away from the table, and by gesticulating on the Truth Plane.

Disclosure Plane

The author says that the jaw and mouth are the disclosure plane.
If the audience cannot see this part, it will seem as if we are closing off and not revealing all the information.

Thought Plane

Mark Bowden says that at the level of the eyes and the temples we have the thought plane.

Gesticulating from this area near our head will put a mental strain on our words.
But if we move our hands wide apart, it will seem agitated and crazy

Right / Left Plane

The author then speaks a bit about the significance of gesticulating on the left or right plane.

He says that for most people the right hand is connected to the left side of the brain and to cognitive thoughts and the other way around.

Telling someone to imagine something with your right hand works better and using your right hand for multiplication tables will make it easier to follow them.

Ecstatic Plane

Mark Bowden says that gesticulating above our heads will give our message an elated, over-the-top feeling.

Indeterminate Smile: the Gioconda Expression

An indeterminate smile is what Gioconda has in the famous Da Vinci painting, but also the Ko-omote smile.

A similar smile is an indicator of acceptance that makes the audience feel welcome and invited into the conversation.

The author says that this type of smile is positive enough to draw a viewer in, but at the same time, it’s also indeterminate enough that the viewer projects his own feelings onto the face, thus inviting the audience to look in themselves.

Laugh or Cry This slight smile is the facial key to inviting an audience to listen to you because, just as with Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa smile, the smile on Ko-omote varies depending on the viewer’s imagination or state of mind.

The smile is positive enough to invite a viewer toward it with a feeling that he will be accepted, yet indeterminate enough that the viewer easily projects many of his own feelings onto the face of the communicator (the mask)—again to feel accepted.

In short, an indeterminate smile invites the members of an audience to look into themselves.

Head Tilt Shows You’re Listening Intently

I love when Mark Bowden says that tilting your head does not drop your status making you look subservient -unless you believe listening is subservient, he adds-.

Indeed the head tilt sends the message that you are listening. And a prolonged or heavy tilt adds strong empathy.

I also found it interesting and noticed it myself when testing, that tilting your head to the left engages the right part of the brain and tends to furrow your eyebrow with thoughts and questioning. A tilt on the left instead gives a lighter feeling.

Use Symmetrical Body Language

Beauty matters and symmetry is one of the major elements of what we perceive as beautiful.

Armed with this knowledge, Mark Bowden says we should strive to use symmetrical gestures, which also help lead the eyes of our audience more easily toward our mouth.

So here’s a sneaky power move: when you talk about your competitors, keep a positive appearance at a verbal level but use asymmetrical body language. Back talking about your company and product, go back to symmetrical body language.

Yes State: Increasing People’s Statuses

Mark Bowden says that we all naturally move towards increasing our status and we naturally move away from decreasing our status.

So if you could communicate in a way that increases people’s status, they’d be drawn towards you.

That’s the “yes state”.

You get into the Yes State by opening up and exposing your full belly and chest area to your audience.
Lengthen your spine so that you stand tall and confident, yet vulnerable at the same time.

To get naturally into a Yes State consciously think “yes, good” and your body will follow.

The author says that performance reviews are most often seen in a negative way no matter how you try to spin the “improvement areas” because they’re often delivered with closed body language.
And when you can give a reward experience with your feedback, the need for a raise in salary is reduced.

Mark Bowden says that you can watch the Yes State in the Hollywood actors on red carpets and as they stand with for the paparazzi’s pictures.

I particularly enjoyed when the author suggests you use the Yes State when you are under attack in business situations.

Instead of closing off and going on the defensive, open your body, show your belly area, nod, and put on a gentle smile.
He says you will be amazed at how quickly you can move him to your side.

Push & Pull Gestures

Mark Bowden says that pulling something towards us is a gesture of acceptance while pushing away is a strong gesture of rejection.

Handshake Power Plays

The author says that an effective handshake that builds trust makes full palm-to-palm contact.

If you push your hands towards your partner’s stomach he will become passive even when he was aggressive at the start of the interaction because, near this vulnerable part of the body, he unconsciously feels that his position is now compromised.

You are now the one in power.

Read also my article on how to defend from an Alpha Male Handshake

Let Them Have the Upper Hand to Make Them Feel Good

Instead of trying to dominate someone, you can reward him with the upper hand and make him feel great.

To let him have the upper hand, simply turn your hand with your palm facing up and slightly move his hand into your belly area at the level of the Truth Plane.
The author says your partner will naturally feel good and will likely smile.

And later on, he righteously reminds us that people who give status to others are perceived as people who have enough to give away.

I again found myself fully agreeing with the author when he says that influencing and persuasion are more about knowing the messages you are sending than reading what the others are sending you back.

And wasting time reading other people’s body language is either a time waste for the fool -or for the very expert rich in time-.
Reading others’ body language is a low-value effort when you can instead influence others.

Don’t Listen to Machiavelli

He says that Machiavelli and his rule of better being feared than loved is a silly one -and Machiavelli died in poverty-.

Becoming Aware of Territoriality

A good communicator should send the message you are there to help and to give.

A good communicator must also avoid any body language that makes people defensive.
And threatening someone’s territory is a surefire way of doing so.

You invade someone’s space when you lean on, touch, or stand very close to someone’s objects, which include a desk, laptop, stationery, etc.

Special attention should be given to leaning against a door, which is a potent and unconscious major physical sign for most of us.

A doorway is the way, and it’s the way out. It’s our escape in an emergency, and having that escape blocked by standing on it or leaning against it triggers our flight or fight switch.

Lots of power is held by those who control and create a territory or access to vital resources such as water coolers, provisions, and light and heating.

The author also recommends watching out for crowds and groups.
When we see more than four people we perceive it as a crowd.
And seeing them all together and nearby can be threatening.

So if you are introducing a customer to your team it’s a good idea to break them into groups of two.

Body Language of Podium

If you have read thus far you will know that a podium, by denying access to the speaker Truth Plane, can be a barrier to trust.

An exception is when the podium presents some important logo or insignia at the belly height that restores that trust and symbolism.
The eagle on the US presidential podium is such an example.

Mark Bowden says that another drawback of podiums is that the only gestures the audience will see are the ones on the chest area, the Passion Plane, which is more likely to make the speaker seem a bit too excited and over the top.

Becoming Aware of Body Spacing

Mark Bowden cites Hall when he says that social distance is correlated to physical distance.

People of similar status stand closer to each other, and the same is true when you have an emotional connection to someone.

Also, the closer we are to someone, the more we influence him.
So as a speaker, it can be a good idea to step closer to your audience, as long as you don’t get too close as to towering over them or stepping into personal boundaries.

Mark Bowden says that a great tip is to notice the point at which you can’t anymore see the feet of someone without dropping your gaze down.
At that point, you can’t anymore foresee all their movements and that’s when an important barrier has been crossed.

Dominant Body Language

Mark Bowden says that height conveys high status.

A loud voice, bigger and broader gestures, and aggressive colors all add to dominance and put together they can be too much and come across as threatening.

Bright colors also send a message of dominance.
Mark Bowden mentions reds, blacks, and yellows as aggressive colors.

And if you are shorter, stand further back and don’t turn your head up, but use your eyes to look at them.

The author also reminds us that you can command status at any height and that the two are connected: people with high status are indeed perceived to be taller than they actually are.winning body language book cover

Real-Life Applications

Be Open When Under Attack
Resist the urge of fighting back and trying instead be as open as possible when under attack and criticism

Make Others Feel Good
Influencing is about making others feel great and drawing them to you and to your point of view. Adopting a YES State with your body language is one of the ways you do that.


Maybe a few more pictures or other visual resources could have been helpful.


Winning Body Language doesn’t have very high reviews, but I found the content to be very high quality.

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