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Want to communicate with impact? Listen in as Mark Bowden discusses how to do so with winning body language.

Mark Bowden is an expert in human behavior and body language. He is the creator of TRUTHPLANE®, a training company that uses a unique methodology to teach people to communicate with impact.

Mark’s publications include the bestselling Winning Body Language, Winning Body Language for Sales Professionals, and Tame the Primitive Brain: 28 Ways in 28 Days to Manage the Most Impulsive Behaviors at Work.

In this episode we discussed:

  • How to create a compelling visual presentation with your body language. (5:02)
  • Authenticity vs. inauthenticity – the different impacts they can have on audiences. (19:31)
  • The creation of TRUTHPLANE®. (37:44)
  • How breathing can influence your presentation. (43:54)
  • The importance of “Yes, and…” in your personal and professional interactions. (52:27)

Find out more about Mark Bowden and his company TRUTHPLANE®.

0:00:00 Michael Port: Welcome to Steal the Show with Michael Port. This is Michael. Today’s guest is Mark Bowden, he’s an expert in human behavior and body language. And he’s the creator of Truthplane, a communication training company and unique methodology for anyone who has to communicate with impact to an audience. Mark gives keynote speeches on how to use the most influential verbal and non-verbal language and communication structures to help you stand out, win trust, and gain credibility every time you speak. Mark is voted number one in the world’s top 30 body language professionals for both 2014 and ’15 by global gurus for his communication techniques in which he trains leaders, people… I guess leaders are people too, but teams, presidents, and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and prime ministers of G8 powers.

0:00:58 Michael Port: He’s also on faculty as a business presentation trainer for The Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA which is ranked number one in the world by The Economist. Mark’s publications include the best-selling, Winning Body Language, Winning Body Language for Sales Professionals, and Tame the Primitive Brain… 28 Ways in 28 Days to Manage the Most Impulsive Behaviors at Work. Hey Mark.

0:01:27 Mark Bowden: Hey there.

0:01:28 Michael Port: Thank you so much for being here.

0:01:29 Mark Bowden: It’s a great pleasure.

0:01:31 Michael Port: So listen, I gotta tell you, historically I have found, I gotta be honest about it, the concept of teaching body language in a vacuum for people who are speakers, a little bit… I don’t wanna use the word cheesy but historically I found it a little silly. Okay, “Do this gesture with your hands and make sure that your shoulder’s this way.” And then, I saw a TED talk that you did. And the way you approach this is entirely different and incredibly compelling and I think that what you do is unique so I’m so happy to share you with my listeners. I wanna start with how you became a body language expert. How does one get into this?

0:02:29 Mark Bowden: Yeah, so there’s probably two answers to that. The first simple one would be just start calling yourself a body language expert until somebody on a new show then says, “Mark is a body language expert”. [chuckle] And it comes up in bold type underneath your name and then start believing that the news is hype around that, that would be one cynical answer to it. Which is kind of partly true in that I kind of set out to be an expert in this area and so of course I would believe I studied more around this more than anybody else I know on the planet or certainly the same as a few of us up there who would be seen as experts in our area.

0:03:18 Mark Bowden: And at the same time, ‘expert’ is a little bit of a perception that I have and that others might have. I guess the great key is thinking is what I help people with, is it helpful? And that’s where the expertise comes if I get you to do something or you follow some of my instructions or ideas. Does it work, does it work immediately and is it helpful? So part of my expertise is really about creating content around body language that really, really works. So how did I get to that point? Here’s what I’d say is, I think just like you, Michael, and many people out there, I started off on the area of performance. As an actor, a director, a producer, in film and TV and theater. However, I was really, really niched around this area in that I was fascinated with visual theater and how you could just tell stories with pictures.

0:04:19 Mark Bowden: And fascinated with silent film and how it just told stories with pictures. I was also fascinated with visual art, just pictures in galleries and how the human form could have a massive impact without any words. So I studied all over the world going to the masters of visual theater and visual arts and trying to learn everything I could from everybody I could find across the world in how the story could be told with pictures and how just the image of a human body, moving or still, could have a huge emotional impact. So I hope that makes sense of that story, Michael.

0:05:02 Michael Port: Oh, it sure does. One of the things that we work on with our students often is blocking. Blocking is not something that people have experience in unless they came from the theater. And of course, for those who are new to the show, blocking is really quite simple. It’s where you are on stage, why you’re going there, with what intention, and it creates a picture for the audience and that visual representation of your story telling, of your content, is very compelling and often helps the audience consume what you have to say. Normally when people look at me speak they just wander back and forth or they just stand in one space, one spot. And contrast is what’s interesting in a speech. Sameness gets a little bit old quite quickly and it sounds to me that in your early interest in the subject matter, the visual picture that was being painted was so important. Now, how do you, when you’re working with speakers, how do you help them create this visual presentation with their body and do you help them with their blocking and where they’re going on stage and why they’re going there to create better pictures for the audience?

0:06:25 Mark Bowden: Sure. So, I think there are two ways to go about this. The first way is really simple, really incredibly simple, which is simply to give the speaker something clear to do, something clear to do that then, once they’re doing that and speaking, they would be free then to make an even better choice. So, even simply if you ask a speaker, “Hey, come on and stand in the center of the stage there. And then, I don’t know, half way through why not just move over there, just for the sake of it.” Even that can cause a speaker to go, “You know what? When I’m moving over there it doesn’t feel quite right, I’d actually prefer to do this, I’d actually prefer to move over to this side and talk to this element of the audience down here or I’d prefer to gesture in this way.”

0:07:20 Mark Bowden: What it does is because you’ve got them to do something, their brain is free to actually have a better idea than what you gave them to do. So, my first appreciation of theatrical blocking was actually on the first day of rehearsal with really great directors that I’d worked with, and I’d do the same when I was directing. I’d just give actors something to do or I’d want just something to do so that actually I’d be able to go, “Oh, that choice, it’s not right. I’ve got a much better idea.” And something would evolve from that that was a specific choice that made real sense rather than the kind of wondering around that you can do when you’re unsure about everything.

0:08:08 Mark Bowden: So, here’s one of the ideas that I work within in creativity in general is make a choice, make it bigger, and keep it tidy. Decide what you’re gonna do, then make that decision even bigger, and now don’t add anything else to it to try and muddy it up. Because if you make strong choices what happens is, is your brain really knows and your body really knows what you’re doing, and the audience really know what you’re doing. And then you can often have a much better reaction to that and a much better idea. So, that would be my first appreciation of blocking.

0:08:46 Mark Bowden: Now, on top of that I would suggest that I know some moves the human body can do which are universal and they have a universal impact on not only the person performing those moves or gestures but they have a universal impact on the audience experiencing those moves and gestures. So, at the same time there’s a vocabulary which is universal and if you know that vocabulary you can play that vocabulary and get a very assured affect from yourself and the audience. Does that make some sense to you, Michael?

0:09:25 Michael Port: It absolutely does and what I wanna highlight is the contrast. When you make very strong choices it impacts you as a performer and it impacts the audience. And for example, one of the things that one of my acting teachers had told me to do and it was such a simple gesture. This was probably 1993 and I was working on Shakespeare, and there was a moment that was a very, very emotional moment, I just wasn’t hitting, I wasn’t getting it, and he just said, “When you do, when you get to this part in the language why don’t you just put your hand over your heart?” And in the next run through I did that and immediately tears started streaming down my face.

0:10:21 Mark Bowden: Right.

0:10:22 Michael Port: And that one physical gesture affected me so strongly and it affected the audience equally, and that’s the first experience I had with how a physical choice can affect how you feel and as a result how the other people, say in that particular case, of course as an actor the other people in the show and the audience and for public speakers, there generally isn’t another person on the stage, they’re really trying to affect the people in the audience. And so, what they’re doing physically affects them and the people in the room.

0:10:58 Mark Bowden: Yeah exactly, and that we call… In behavior we call it cascading effect. In that what you do with your body affects the whole of the rest of your body and your mind and the rest of your environment which will contain other social mammals like human beings there. So, now the key is to perform a behavior, a gesture, a movement, that is clear. So you make a choice, you make it bigger, you keep it tidy so that the other human beings in the environment are clearly, will be able to mirror that. When they mirror it, they get what’s called a theory of mind. They have a theory about how you’re thinking, feeling, and intending which might not actually be true because it’s just a theory. But in order to get that theory they have to experience the movement, and the feeling, emotion, intention that goes with that, to that kind of preprogrammed with for want of a better metaphor essentially.

0:12:09 Mark Bowden: It’s not that you can just do any gestures and they’ll have an effect. You have to do clear and consistent copiable, mirror able behaviors that are more assured of triggering the audience with a theory of mind that they then experience and mirror back on you and say, in acting terms go, “Oh, Mark is angry or the character Mark he’s playing is angry.” Well, Mark might not necessarily be angry, it’s just you the audience have got anger in you right now and you’re now projecting it on to me.

0:12:47 Mark Bowden: That’s what I always loved Michael about film is that what I understood when you watch a film and you’re experiencing the feelings of those characters, what I understood and I found fascinating was the emotion of the character had ended. All that was there was a reproduction of the behavior. The person playing the character isn’t experiencing the emotion anymore and maybe wasn’t in the first place, but they have recorded the data of the movement that will trigger the audience into feeling that feeling. And I especially liked it with things like Silence of the Lambs where people would go, “Oh Hannibal Lecter, what an awful character, how creepy, how awful I feel watching him.” And I think to myself, well, because it’s not his feelings anymore if he even had them in the first place. It’s yours that you’re projecting onto him. You’re the psychopath now, not him. I just love that idea that it’s the audiences’ feelings, not the actors anymore.

0:14:06 Michael Port: And what are the things that, say, in that particular example that you recall if you saw that film and I think I might have seen that film 20 years ago, but I still recall one moment where he made this incredibly freaky… I don’t even… Gesture with his mouth. He did something… Something really weird and it stuck with me. Now, here’s what’s interesting. That is an action that he took with his mouth that actually is benign. If I’m playing around with my my seven-year-old daughter and I go… Like that, it could mean something completely different. But because of the intention that he put behind it, what he was trying to do to the other character in the scene, it had a very specific meaning that was clear as day and it was big strong choice. And of course he took a risk with that choice, but it worked.

0:15:10 Michael Port: And what’s interesting is that when people come to performance without training or a background that you have or that I have and they sure to look at body language, they may work from the outside in and start to indicate. Whereas what Anthony Hopkins did is he knew the feeling he wanted to create in that other actor. He was trying to do something to them and he made a physical choice that had that effect. It made that objective. He made him accomplish that objective. So can you speak to the difference between working from the inside out and having the way that you think and the way that you feel affect your body language so that you influence others positively versus making external choices first, “Well, I’m gonna do this with my body so that I feel this and so that others feel this,” because they both can work just like I used the example before where I put my hand over my heart. Can you speak to that because sometimes as a performer, you work from the inside out sometimes you work from the outside in?

0:16:27 Mark Bowden: Yeah. Both are really effective and both… You got this kind of chicken and egg situation of what starts first, the action or the thought, and the thought affects the action and the action affects the thought. I don’t think anybody really knows what happens first, I think many of would speculate that before you are anything else, you are a physical thing and that your thought processes are actually more affected by the outside world than anything else than their internal systems. Take this as an instance, if you take away all inputs and all output from your brain, what is your brain left with?

0:17:10 Mark Bowden: And so those of us who work within the field of embodied cognition and not in they can’t model of, “I think therefore I am”, those of us like me that work within the embodied cognition model which is, “I act therefore I am”, that it’s our actions on the planet and our reactions on the planet that actually decide how we think. Those of us that think that way, our idea would be that if you intervene in that loop with physical action, it is faster, more effective, more impactful than intervening on that loop with mental action. Now of course, we as people who are actors, before we do what we’re doing we would understand that actors do action, and that’s why we’re called actors and we don’t do thinking because that’s the realm of philosophers, philosophers think, actors act. And I took that idea very very seriously, and so I was very focused on and still I’m on, “What’s the action that I can do in order to provoke a set of feelings not only in myself but in the audience?”

0:18:27 Mark Bowden: Now in order of this to work, you as the performer of the actions have to be open to the impulse. I have to be open that if I do the breathing pattern of sadness for example, I have to be open that it’s gonna trigger in me. I mustn’t want to avoid it, so when the feelings starts to come I’ve gotta cross over the line and step right into that feeling and let that feeling absorb me, and then there’s gonna be a cascading effect of simply I will be in sadness and everything that I then do would be immersed in that feeling but first I have to trigger it, and I trigger it with the action rather than the words or trying to conjure a mental idea of sadness or happiness or disdain or whatever feeling or intention I’m trying to create. Does that make some sense Michael, is that a fair description?

0:19:31 Michael Port: It absolutely makes sense to me. One of the things I was really looking forward to in our conversation was to talk about authenticity. Because you and I when we’ve chatted before, have talked about this a bit and we have some… We share some similar views on this and there’s a little dust up recently in the world of “thought leaders” around this, and you may have seen it and I would love to address it because we talk about performance, we talk about making choices to influence other people specifically to get them to think something, to do something, to feel something and sometimes people are uncomfortable with the idea of performance, they think, “Well, performance is phony or it’s fake.” And we may take a slightly different perspective. I think you do, I know I do, so I wanna talk about that because if people watch your TED talk, your TEDx talk you address this specifically, so I do encourage everybody to search for Mark’s TED talk and you’ll love it, maybe it’s on your website, is it there also? Could they find it on your website?

0:20:47 Mark Bowden: Oh yeah, for sure just head to Truthplane or Google Truthplane or Google my name Mark Bowden and it’ll show up.

0:20:54 Michael Port: Great. And we’ll put that in the show notes also, but there’s a little dust up recently, I don’t know if you saw this, Adam…

0:21:01 Mark Bowden: Yeah, I think I know the one you’re talking about.

0:21:02 Michael Port: Okay good, ’cause I actually did a recorded podcast episode just myself without a guest this past week talking about it so people can reference that but Adam Grant, for those who haven’t listened to it, Adam Grant wonderful man, wonderful author, a professor at Wharton, he wrote an article in the New York Times about authenticity and how he doesn’t think being yourself is necessarily the best advice you can get. And he quoted Brene Brown and referenced her work, and she wasn’t keen on the way that he referenced her work. She thought it was a reductive way of looking at what she’s teaching and so she wrote a response, an open response to him and it was very interesting, ’cause ultimately I thought they were speaking… They were closer together than I think they were apart, I think they were getting into semantics, but the basic premise was, “What is authenticity? And how does being authentic influence the way that others see you in the world?” So I’d love you to share your particular perspective on this concept of authenticity and how we should think about it?

0:22:25 Mark Bowden: Yeah, great. It is such a wonderful area to explore, and of course to start off it is full of semantic problems in that, “What do you mean by authenticity? What do I mean? What do they think it means?” So I’m gonna kind of that.

0:22:40 Michael Port: Yeah, and ultimately… And ult… Yeah, exactly ’cause ultimately who cares? Right?

0:22:44 Mark Bowden: Yeah, yeah exactly [chuckle]

0:22:45 Michael Port: I couldn’t care less, what we’re trying to do I think all of us is figure out a way to help people feel more connected to who they are and express themselves in a way they feel comfortable and get where they wanna go in life.

0:23:00 Mark Bowden: Right. So here’s what I know for sure about authenticity, is that only I can decide whether I’m being authentic or not. You can decide it for me, nobody else can say, “Hey Mark you’re being authentic, you’re not being authentic.” You could have a perception of whether I’m being authentic, you could have a theory about it but your theory like any theory could be wrong or could be right or something in between, so first of all let’s not have any of this stuff around, “Well I think you’re being authentic there, Michael alright, I think you’re not, or you were, or you weren’t authentic then, Michael.” [chuckle] What I’m probably saying when I’m saying, “Oh you weren’t authentic,” I’m probably just saying, “I didn’t like it,” and I just don’t dare be honest with you and go, “I didn’t like what you said there, I didn’t like what you did.” And it’s for us to dress it up in, “Well you weren’t being authentic.”

0:23:53 Mark Bowden: Let’s now change the idea to the self, okay? So what is being yourself? So what is the self? Well my mind, it’s not a set thing, it’s… Myself is a work in progress. My idea of self can change quite extraordinarily sometimes even on a dime in a day. I can surprise myself sometimes. So if we’ll take this idea of the self as being a work in progress it’s not a set thing, then why can’t I try out different aspects of myself? Why can’t I have a go at being the performance of the leader? Why can’t I have a go at being the performance of a great speaker and do some of the things that great speakers do? I’m capable of it, I can try it. Look, however successful I might be, that’s a different thing. But we are… Human beings, one of our primary ways of learning is to mimic is mimesis to copy. So why can’t I copy other people who’re great at what they do? Why can’t I copy that to see if it brings forward in me an aspect of myself that maybe I hadn’t tried out fully, that if helps you make bolder choices or step over the line and take more risk about how I might be the leader. And if you wanna call that well faking it, fine I don’t mind you calling it that.

0:25:32 Mark Bowden: Picasso, used to look at pictures that he painted and ones that he hadn’t with his agent and he’d say which ones were fake and which ones were, and which ones are fake Picassos and which ones were real ones, and he’d point to some of his own pictures and go, “That’s fake.” And his agent would say, “Well, we know that you painted that,” and he’d go, “Yeah, but it’s not a Picasso.” And he’d point to other pictures that other artists had painted and tried to put in the market and he’d go, “That’s a Picasso.” His agent would go, “Well we know that’s a fake,” and he’d go “Well yeah I didn’t paint it but it’s a Picasso.” The thing is that we can be so much more than we think we are or that society tells us that we should be, our teachers, our potentially parents or anybody who might have looked after you at an early age may have decided, and you take that impulse so that you can’t be anything more than you are. We can try out new personas, new selves and sometimes though it’s an effort and feels a bit odd, there’s a real enjoyment and a release in that. So if being an authentic is all about fakery and not being myself, well I’m all for it now and again. I’m standing in the line to see what else and what more I can be, and I know others want to do the same.

0:27:05 Michael Port: When I was an actor, one of the things that you would hear an experienced actor would say is something like, “My character wouldn’t do that.”

0:27:15 Mark Bowden: Right.

0:27:16 Mark Bowden: Which of course is ironic considering the character isn’t actually real, it doesn’t exist, you’re making it up. So when you are very rigidly fixed to an idea of who that character is supposed to be, then you may be limited in your ability to express the vision of the writer and the director etcetera. And the same thing is true I think in life, we say, “Well, I wouldn’t do that.” One of my friends we were out on the boat two weeks ago and we were sitting, we have this really interesting what we thought was deep metaphysical discussion and he said, “Well, I can speak for my past but I can’t speak for my future.”


0:28:03 Michael Port: And I thought that was quite clever because to my mind what he’s saying is, “Yeah I know who I have been, but I don’t know who I’m gonna be.” And if we are rigidly fixed on the idea of who we are and we don’t recognize that the idea of who we are can change, then we may stay in the exact same place that we are right now or have been in the past. And you said something about society tells us that we are this or should be this and I think man I think that’s a big part of it, isn’t it?

0:28:44 Mark Bowden: Right. Yeah for sure. I think society, the tribes that we’ve grown up in, there’re some levels of conformity that they place upon us. Some of them might be really helpful and some of them might hold us back. And I love the world that your friend is in there of saying I know what I am now but I don’t know what I’ll be in the future, and this idea of, “Well I wouldn’t do that.” Well what a potentially tawdry world to live in where you don’t explore the ideas of going, “Well I could do that, I could do that” but there’re some prizes and punishment to that, or perceived prizes and punishment.

0:29:27 Mark Bowden: Or exploring the world of, “I’m scared about doing that,” or, “I’m fascinated with doing that but I wonder whether it would cross the line for the society that I was brought up in.” Many great artists and I would say, and I think you’d agree with me Michael, that when you go out there and set out to be a great speaker, for my money, you’re setting out to be an artist. And what I mean by that is for me, the purpose of art is to remind us that we are alive. Is to remind that audience, that they are living human beings in the world right now. It’s to cause that audience to almost touch their body and experience their mind and go, “Wow, I’m a living thing.” And not be sitting there in the audience obsessed with the past and obsessed with the future, but be sitting there and then going, “I’m connecting with the people around me and with this speaker and I’m alive right now.”

0:30:29 Michael Port: Yes.

0:30:30 Mark Bowden: And so…

0:30:30 Michael Port: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

0:30:33 Mark Bowden: And I think to do that you have to cross the line of societal norms. You have to do something a little bit extraordinary for just a moment of it. You’ve gotta wake that audience up so they go, “Wow, it’s me. I’m alive here and he’s there or she’s there right now and we’re all here in the room.” So trying to be something different from yourself, trying to imagine what you could be in the future and stepping into that can really wake you up and therefore wake the audience up. Does that make sense, Michael?

0:31:14 Michael Port: It sure does. We often say… And the irony is we often say about our past, we say, “I can’t believe I did that. That wasn’t really me.” [chuckle] Well, yeah it was.

0:31:27 Mark Bowden: Who was it?

0:31:28 Michael Port: Yeah, exactly right. So the same thing about the future, you don’t know who you might become. And so choose wisely, choose intentionally, choose big, because if you don’t choose with intention then you may become the thing that you don’t wanna become.

0:31:48 Mark Bowden: Sure, yeah. You’ll accidentally potentially are gonna fall into that thing, whereas, you might make a choice to get out of that or make a choice to be the thing you don’t want to be. There’s some points in my talk, and I think you’ll see that if you watch the TEDx talk, there’s a point in it where I purposely allow myself to be one of the… Part of myself that I don’t like people to see because it’s not nice to be around. [chuckle] And it crosses the line, it totally crosses the line. It crosses the line for me and for the audience to show them that. But it has a huge effect because they can feel, I think, why I would want to protect myself and them from this person.

0:32:47 Michael Port: Oh yes. Actually, if you don’t mind, I’d love you to share a little bit more about that, maybe even do some of that because when I saw you do that I went, “Oh, yeah,” ’cause I’ve done some similar things to demonstrate to folks that we do play roles all the time. We don’t always act completely authentically and thank God we don’t because of the things we might say or the things we might do. And the performance job is, in part, to break the rules. Not to break the rules just to break the rules because you think it’s cool or provocative, but if you have a desire to get through to people, to connect with people, you may be able to break the rules and do so. So you, I think, break some of the rules that people might expect of a speaker when you come out on stage and you tell them how you really feel. [laughter]

0:33:46 Mark Bowden: Yeah.

0:33:47 Michael Port: So could you later maybe do some of that for them or just share some…

0:33:51 Mark Bowden: Sure. So look, at the moment, Michael, I’m being the part of myself that enjoys having interviews. The part of myself that is big, gregarious, that will enjoy just talking about ideas and will give… Let’s put it like this, give the audience the benefit of the doubt that they are engaged and they’d be interested in this. So that’s the part of myself that I’m bringing forward at the moment. But what I’m just gonna do for you now is let the part of me that has doubts about this audience come forward so that I can say to them, “Why are you listening to this? You have… Why do you even think that you could be as good as me at this?”

0:35:09 Mark Bowden: So, I’ve dedicated since I was just a small child to being brilliant on stage and I’ve spent the time and the mental effort and the pain to get where I am today, to be expert. And the idea that you think that you could even glean and a touch of that over sound, over the airwaves here, is ridiculous. So you are kidding yourselves that you’d ever be anything, that you could ever be this good. So there’s that part of me and… And Michael, this feels absolutely real to me, but what I think is what I just said to the audience. Though it’s an aspect of me that feels real and is not tempered by the optimistic part of me that has been speaking to you, I don’t, and I’m being honest, I don’t think that was helpful to anybody.


0:36:25 Mark Bowden: It was totally true though.

0:36:26 Michael Port: I, although I did enjoy it, I had to move the microphone away from me ’cause I was laughing so hard.


0:36:32 Mark Bowden: Sorry, let me just bring back the part of me that enjoys interviews.


0:36:37 Mark Bowden: And both of these things are totally real to me. Right now I’m back in this, in myself, the part of myself that enjoys talking to you and is optimistic about the audience, and it knows people can grow, it knows. I’ve experienced it for myself that people can get so much better at this, and because I’m now got that part of my persona forward that part of me which has had to suffer to get where I’ve got it’s so out of my mind now. But these are choices and they’re big choices that I’m making, and the important thing is, Michael, I’m making what I believe is the best choice of who to be right now for you and for the audience. I’m doing it for you because I want something for you and for the audience. I want all of you to get so much better at what you wanna be, and so there’s my intention.

0:37:37 Michael Port: And on behalf of the audience, we thank you.


0:37:40 Mark Bowden: It’s my pleasure. It’s actually quite easy when you’re enjoying it right then.

0:37:44 Michael Port: Well, let’s talk about the Truthplane. This is the core of your work and I’d love you to share the concept and teach us about the Truthplane so that we can benefit from it.

0:37:56 Mark Bowden: Yeah, lovely. So when I wrote my first book, Winning Body Language, what I set out to do was to put down a model, a scheme of gesture that I had learned from my greatest mentor, a guy called John Wright who is probably Europe’s greatest visual theater, mask theater practitioner. I’d learned it from him, I’ve developed it further. He got it from a guy called Jack Lacock. Lacock probably got it from Michel Chandeny. Michel Chandeny probably got it from Jacques Quappo, who Jacques Quappo got it from we don’t quite know but we would suggest that this is a system which is thousands of years old and goes right… Because we see it in the earlier start. We see it in iconography, religious art.

0:38:52 Mark Bowden: So the idea is and the model is that the feelings, thoughts and intentions that you have and an audience will have about you radically changes at the horizontal height that you have your gestures, and there’s some really specific heights that cause the most radical change and it’s universal. The same change happens across the planet, so this is about how all of our bodies are constructed. We are upright hominids able to use therefore, our hands and our hands have the ability and our arms have the ability to move up and down on horizontal planes and therefore… And by the way, and that changes things like our breathing rate and our blood pressures and because of how important our hands are and how they need to be full of blood in order to be operational.

0:39:53 Mark Bowden: So let me give you kind of a quick run-through of it and a demonstration that you should be able to hear through the tonality of my voice. What I’m gonna do right now is just hang my hands down by my side and stand, I’m standing still as well. So I’m standing at the moment, by the way, and I’ve hung my hands down by my side and I’m allowing that physically to trigger impulses in me. So I’m being open to the feelings that that gives me and you’ll have noticed that my voice has a downward intonation and it’s slowed down and if you were to monitor my heart rate right now, you’d see that that is slowed down. Another thing that’s happening is because this is triggering a rest state in me is the blood is now being drained from my neocortex slightly which is why I’m kinda fumbling around for content and long words.

0:41:05 Mark Bowden: Now what I’m gonna do is bring my hands up to chest height, up to heart height, and that actually during this call, that’s where I’ve had my hands quite a lot of the time in what I’d call the passion plane. Where I was before, hands down by the side, that’s what I call the grotesque plane. The passion plane is at chest sternum height and this has now sent my heart rate and breathing rate and blood pressure up and you should be able to hear that in the tonality of my voice. If you were here in front of me, you would see a more passionate person though I maybe don’t need anything to be passionate about. All I need to do is place my hands up in the passion plane and excitement instantly happens.

0:41:49 Mark Bowden: Now what I’m gonna do is bring my hands down to navel height so my hands are at exactly belly button, navel, stomach height. And now what you should be experiencing, I think in the tonality of my voice, is somebody who’s calm and assertive, and in control of their content. Somebody who feels like… Often people say when I’m gesturing here that’s the moment they say, “Oh Mark, you were being really authentic with us just then.” And it isn’t that it makes me more authentic, I could lie through my teeth to you here. But you would most likely believe me because it triggers you with this feeling of there aren’t any predators in the room, and I’m not a predator and that I’m safe and the territory is safe. And therefore what I’m saying is very calm, assertive, and safe. So we’ve got the grotesque playing down by our sides, hands hanging down. We’ve got the truth plane at belly height. We’ve got the passion plane at sternum heart height. At mouth height we’ve got closure and disclosure. At kind of temple and head height we’ve got a gesture plane of thought, and then up above our head we have what’s called the gesture plane of the ecstatic. Which is where things get really quite wild and energetic and out of control. So that’s the gesture plane system.

0:43:20 Mark Bowden: If you go to my book, Winning Body Language, it takes you through all of that. And this was an idea that I learned very early on from about the age of 18 when I was studying, 17 even, when I was studying as a visual performer. And again, I would suggest it’s been around for thousands of years and visual artists and performers use it all the time either consciously or unconsciously. I would say the really good ones use it really consciously. So did that kind of make sense, Michael? You got a picture of that and heard some of that.

0:43:54 Michael Port: I sure did of course. Speaking of your book, page 74, you have a subheading that says breathe and the world breathes with you. And the first sentence says here’s something more. I won’t try to do your accent; I’ll just do me. Here’s something more just in case you need convincing further. And I want you to help me convince my listeners and my students especially, those of you who are students who are listening, that they need to spend more time working on their breathing. Because as you say here, breathe and the world breathes with you. And they may have not experienced it yet but you get to the point where you’ve achieved a certain level of competency, dare I say mastery on stage where you can actually feel the audience breathe with you. That the way your breath influences the way they breathe. So I’d love you to address how breathing influences the performer and how breathing influences the listener, the audience, the person that is paying attention to the speaker.

0:45:13 Mark Bowden: Yeah lovely. So I first discovered this in a huge way when I was working in theatre and we were kind of resurrecting to an extent, exploring and resurrecting the genre of melodrama. Melodramas have been produced throughout history. That what it, melodrama what it means is that you mix melody with the drama, that there’s some music that carries along the drama as well. The reason for the music is, music is one of our simplest ways to embed very clear rhythm and cadence into an art form for the audience to mirror and copy and therefore to trigger for them emotions. Melodramas would tend to come up throughout history when people were at their most down. When economically there’s been most poverty or disease simply because you have to make the horrors of being alive beautiful for an audience to watch.

0:46:17 Mark Bowden: Because they’re living these horrors daily and in order to see themselves on stage it has to have an aesthetic which is romantic to watch, so that they can almost celebrate the experience of the horror. So that’s it. I got this, a lot of these breathing techniques or ideas from melodrama. What we noticed was the costumes of the performers were very much built in order for you to concentrate on the chest area and the audience to mirror their breathing. And the performers would breathe in a very big way so that the audience could see them breathing and mirror that breathing.

0:47:03 Mark Bowden: And those levels differing levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide would trigger the endocrine system to produce the right chemicals to provoke the feeling that was wanted to be had in the audience and potentially in the performer as well. So we mirror breathing in order to get that theory of mind and experience emotions. So just to give you an idea there’s just split breathing into two different types, in breath and out breath. And when you’re on the out breath we’d call it that you are expired. You have expired. And when you’re on the in breath, you have inspired, I.e. You might be inspiring. So you can expire, be dead or you can be inspiring, I.e. Get people to breathe with you. So let me give you just a quick example of this and see how much you mirror it.

0:48:00 Mark Bowden: All I’m gonna do now is breath out, and now what I’m gonna do is keep my breathing pattern on that out breath, so I’m not now gonna really re-expand the chest. I’m on what we call the out breath now which means that my levels of carbon dioxide are going up and my oxygen levels are going down. And so, if I were to give you a full key note speech like this you would probably fall asleep quite quickly. Now what I’m gonna do is breathe in and stay on that in breath. Obviously I’m still breathing in and out but my chest is predominantly expanded and there’s now a lightness in me and my guess is is you’re hearing that in my voice as well. It’s coming naturally this feeling of real pleasure and excitement about saying the next thing that’s coming into my head.

0:49:12 Mark Bowden: And my guesses is, is that if I was a keynote speaker and speaking to you right now you might be more biased to being inspired by what I’m saying because you can feel and see and you’re mirroring my literal inspiration. Now, there’s other things we can do, again, just to show you how much you mirror breathing is all the time I’m speaking you’re actually copying in your breathing my rhythm of speech. So, I just want you to notice what happens when I take that pause and notice did you hold your breath? Notice, did you suspend your breathing?

0:49:54 Michael Port: I certainly did.

0:49:56 Mark Bowden: Yeah. And when I left that pause again, and again that time, that moment of suspension as we call it, that expectation something’s gonna come next, and your impulse as a human being is to want to bring in more oxygen, to want to breathe in, to want to inspire, essentially. So I hope that was a relevant demonstration, and look, when you can see me doing this as well you’ll see the visual impact as well, but hopefully you’re actually seeing how it works sonically as well.

0:50:35 Michael Port: Absolutely, there’s no doubt about it. And having the ability to do this with intention, to control how you breath so that, A, you can deliver the material that you want to deliver in the way that you wanna deliver it, but also so that you can influence the way that the people in the room are feeling and behaving is very powerful. So for example, when you took that pause and you held your breath you created a certain amount of anticipation.

0:51:12 Mark Bowden: Yes.

0:51:13 Michael Port: Now, you could also, if you didn’t, if you weren’t doing that intentionally you might actually create anxiety. Because you’re holding your breath and not taking more in and then you get more constrained and the audience is a little bit worried because they feel like you’re gonna eventually ran out of air and if they feel like you’re gonna ran out of air then you may actually fall down and pass out and they don’t want that. And that does not sound good, it doesn’t feel good. And also in the book you have a chapter on the ‘yes’ state, and I imagine that those who have read Steal the Show when they hear the yes state they’ll think of the chapter on saying yes and.

0:52:00 Mark Bowden: Yeah.

0:52:01 Michael Port: And I love this part of your book, I thought it was fantastic. And there’s a section in there that is, that has a subhead that says, “let it in.” And right before that it says, “accept everything.” And it’s very hard to say, “yes” and to be in the yes state, to accept everything without letting the breath in.

0:52:23 Mark Bowden: Right.

0:52:27 Michael Port: And that’s what I hear in the way that you give these example, because most people I’m sure have had an experience where they feel like they were gonna cry. They did not wanna cry because there were other people in the room, so what do they do, they hold their breath, because if they hold their breath they may not feel. But as soon as for whatever reason, they open their mouth and take a big inhale, what happens? The tears start flowing. But you’re saying yes to that feeling instead of rejecting it and saying no. So, how can we use this principle of saying yes and how can we put ourself in the yes state without subjugating ourselves or just being yes people. How do we balance saying yes and actually saying what we want?

0:53:22 Mark Bowden: Yes, really interesting. So I like the Idea that you just said there without subjugating ourselves or being yes people. How can we be in this accepting state, so it’s not necessarily about saying yes to everything though yes is a great English word, word in the English language that those of us that speak English it’s a big trigger for us and it’s a big trigger for us potentially for accepting state. An accepting state doesn’t mean that I agree, just means that I accept what’s happening. And so I would say, first of all, why not subjugate yourself to acceptance. Why not be a yes person to acceptance. I just want people to think about that as a possibility that for the 45 minutes, 30 minutes, 50 minutes, hour, hour and a half that you’re on stage in front of that audience, why not be the person that can accept and subjugate themselves to the rest of the world in order that the rest of the world would attach themselves to you, would see somebody, would feel somebody who’s totally open to them. Who’s totally open to the idea of what they have to say and they have to think. You know, what harm would it do you to be that person and how might it really benefit your audience in attaching to you, connecting with you and therefore and taking in what you have to say.

0:55:13 Mark Bowden: So I’m gonna go down the route of, “Yeah, absolutely!” Subjugate yourself to accepting everything that’s going on around you and adapting to that and being able to manipulate that. Being able to sculpt what’s going on around you into something bigger and better and more useful for you and most importantly your audience.

0:55:36 Mark Bowden: Now I get to that state by using lots of positive words. When I’m speaking I’m constantly trying to use the most positive words I can to trigger myself into accepting that audience when actually at an innate level they worry me or they scare me or they’re indifferent to me or some of them might hate me or I might think some of them hate me. I might think some of them love me and so I don’t need to accept them because they’re already biased. So I use a lot of positive vocabulary both kind of in my mind and also vocally and use a very positive open body in order to be in that ‘yes’ state. And I would just say it’s a more creative state.

0:56:30 Mark Bowden: I first learned this from a guy called Keith Johnstone who was the guy who wrote the book “…“, you’ve probably come across it, Michael, and many of your students. People you work with might have. And I was lucky enough to work with him at the Royal Court in London and he got some of these ideas from Michel Chendney as well, from the French theatre and this idea of that a real creativity as an individual and as a group and with an audience came from that idea of accepting what’s going on rather than as he would often say, “bocking it”. And it’s so much easier to block what’s going on. It’s so much easier in the day to go, “Well no, no. Not really. Hmm I don’t think so.” So much easier to be that person and generally I would be one of those people most of the day.

0:57:24 Mark Bowden: But when I’m on stage, when I’m working for that audience and trying to get my ideas across, I’m the person that’s just going, “Yeah, exactly, right, good, oh yeah, tell me more.” Even when I think somebody’s attacked me with a question or an idea I’m the person with open body language going, “That’s great! Do that again! Give me some more of that! What else? Tell me something else!” And because I’m that person I’m able to turn around the person who is anti what I’m there to say, because I accept them. Does that rant make any sense to you, Michael?

0:58:02 Michael Port: It sure does and it was not a rant. It was a beautiful presentation, standing on a soap box. That’s what I liked about it.


0:58:10 Michael Port: I want everybody to pay attention. Listen to… If you go back and if you listen to this again, and I think you should. I think you should listen to this more than once because what Mark is sharing with us I think is profoundly important for our personal and professional development. There are two things that he… There’s one thing that he… There’s two things he does not do, that I have not heard him do once through this presentation. Now maybe you can go back and find it once and you can prove me wrong, but I have not heard it, I have not noticed it. And there are two things that you guys hear me suggest as often as I possibly can and you often hear other guests do this. But you have not heard Mark do this. Two things, number one, I have not heard him say at one time, “Yes, but.” I have not heard him once say, “Yes, but.” And as a result this entire conversation is so much more inspiring for me as the person who is having the conversation with him because he is taking whatever I ask him or share with him and saying, “Yes!” and he adds more to it. There’s not once time does he says, “Yes, but.”

0:59:30 Michael Port: Because when you say, “yes, but” generally what you’re doing is lowering the other person’s status. By saying, “Yes, that was fine, but I’m going to add something that’s more important.” So if you want people on your team you do what Mark is doing and you say, “Yes and.” Number two, I have not heard Mark use many absolutes because when you use absolutes as a regular way of being, then you often are discounting other possibilities and other people’s ideas and it’s unlikely that the way that you think is the only way, the right way, and even if it was, if people do not yet think that way, and you want them to think that way, it’s harder to get them to think that way if you demand that they think that way by using absolutes like, “Everybody does this, it’s always this way”.

1:00:25 Michael Port: Generally we want to leave room for people’s alternative perspective and you hear Mark throughout this interview say, “Often this, it seems this, we might do this” and those two habits that he has of not saying, “Yes but” and not using absolutes as a general rule I think are one of the, are why, in addition to many other things, why he is so interesting to talk to and to listen to. Do you do that intentionally Mark?

1:01:07 Mark Bowden: I’m so glad you brought that up and I’m so glad you ended with that idea, do I do it intentionally? It’s absolutely on purpose, it’s learned behavior, I’m not a natural at this. I believe I know it all, I’ve spent so much time with this stuff that I have this overwhelming condition to tell you, to cause you conform with my better knowledge, and it’s useless, because you don’t have to do anything that I say, you’re a free human being, you have freedom of thought, you can make your own choices.

1:01:52 Mark Bowden: And I first learned this or really started honing it studying with a guy called Robert Anton Wilson, also I started honing the idea of the self and fakery and authenticity around working with Robert Anton Wilson. He talked about a language called E-Prime, which he believed was more accurate, so trying to find a more accurate language that would take away the words like, “All” or, “Never” or, “Always” and replace those with ideas like, “Some but not all the time” or, “Often” or, “I feel” or, “It’s my opinion” or, “It’s just the way that I think”. This idea of real accuracy is in you getting across your perception, just your perception, that’s were truth is, that’s where real accuracy is.

1:02:55 Mark Bowden: We’d always think, “Always be careful of anybody who just said the word all, or never, or always. Especially if they’re saying it to you, you always, you never, you can’t”. So often somebody will say to me when I’m training them, I’ll give them an idea, “Hey how about doing this?” and they’ll go, “Well you can’t do that Mark” and I say, “What? You mean you’ve never seen somebody do it, or you’ve never done it? Because I can, I can do that, there’s just prices and punishment to doing that, and I’d have to decide whether I want to do that, whether I’m gonna do that. But to say I can’t? I can do anything I want to, it’s just I might break some rules, I might get into trouble, I might get a big prize if I do that, but there isn’t any can’t or never or always”. So I’ve tried to eradicate that from my language, those absolutes, because it’s much more influential and persuasive to speak accurately, which is around, “perhaps” or, “maybe” or, “I’ve seen it, I don’t know whether you’ve seen it” elements like that, and just…

1:04:11 Mark Bowden: Now to talk about this idea of never saying “but” again, I’ve tried to eradicate as best as I can that from my language because my understanding is the word “but” is the fulcrum of argument. “Yes but” exactly as you said, I remember my son really early on learning that “but” was the fulcrum of argument and he’d have an argument just by going “but, but, but” [chuckle] he couldn’t construct the other elements of the argument, but he knew that if he just said “but” it was a confrontation.

1:04:55 Mark Bowden: So I’m constantly on purpose making a decision, even when somebody says something that my instinct or my… Yeah my authenticity or a part of myself says, “That’s none sense, that’s rubbish, that won’t work, that’s idiocy” or, “That’s not true.” I’ve got that going in me, I’ve decided to go, “Okay, yeah, tell me more” or, “Okay yeah, here’s what I think about it” and then I can say the exact opposite of what they’ve said, but I’ll always accept what they’ve given me, that doesn’t mean I agree with it, I just accept it with everything that I’ve got, and then say what I believe, what I think to be true, what I’ve experienced. Does that make sense Michael?

1:05:48 Michael Port: Yes, and frankly one of the reasons that you and I and all of the people who are listening are focused on performance, body language, influencing others, is because we want to raise our status in the community. And I think if we’re honest about it, we would probably say, “Yeah, I’d like to raise my status in the community because I can be more influential if I have a higher status.” And it seems like what you’re doing with saying yes and staying away from absolutes is actually also raising other people’s status. And I would love you to speak to that because I know it is something that you address and that you teach in the importance of raising other people’s status and I think this is one of the ways that you do it is by giving them room.

1:06:45 Mark Bowden: Absolutely. First of all, look, there’s some kind of neuroscience around this. Look, it’s science. It’s the best idea we’ve got today based on how we went to get the idea. Tomorrow, it might not be science anymore or it might be defunct science or demobilized science. But our current idea, some current ideas around this, that when you raise status and status would be in my view, the perception that somebody has about the control they have of resources that are valuable. Bit of a long explanation there, but if I think that I control valuable resources, I’m gonna have a self-perception of the, “I have high status”. If I think you control a valuable resource, then I’ll think you have high status.

1:07:36 Mark Bowden: My perception of my status, some current science says, raises the levels of dopamine in somebody’s… In the person’s brain. And now, what this does, dopamine is the neurotransmitter that signals the idea of, “this environment is gonna get good”. It’s the neurotransmitter of expectation, positive expectation. “This is gonna get good.” If I give you the perception, if I can influence you into a perception or a reality of you control valuable resource, what happens is, as you start to monitor that environment that I’ve created around you where you control a valuable resource, your brain creates dopamine and says, “Hey, this is gonna get good.” And it engages with me and it goes, “We should pay some attention to Mark. He creates an environment where we have status. We’re much more likely to survive in this environment than any other. We should stick around here.” “Yeah, we should stick around. How long is this talk?” “Oh, an hour and a half.” “Yeah, yeah, we’ll stick around for an hour and a half because this one is gonna get good.”

1:08:48 Mark Bowden: Now, of course, I can disappoint. I mean, I cannot live up to that. I cannot give you any status. I could take it away from you later or it not increase and then you’ll be disappointed. The difference between what we expected and what we got is either delight if we got more than we expected or disappointment if we got less than we expected. I could delight you in an hour and a half or I could disappoint you in an hour and a half. But the first thing I have to do is give you the perception that this is gonna get good. This is an environment where you will be better sustained.

1:09:26 Mark Bowden: And I do that by raising status and I do it, one of the ways that I do it is to accept the audience, to accept them. If they bring an idea to me, if they bring a response, I’ll totally open to that response. I may even praise that response. Somebody might, in my mind, attack me with an idea. It’s only in my mind, it might be an attack, it might not, it might have been something in between. But I will tend to accept that attack and praise that attack sometimes because I want them to feel good so that they go, “Hey, this is gonna get good. This is gonna be great. Oh, I won’t attack anymore. I’ll enjoy this.” And that’s the way you can influence and persuade people who may have been negative to your idea and bring them around to being positive.

1:10:20 Mark Bowden: Now, of course, just like the body language work that I do, many people and I don’t blame them, could say, “Look Mark, this is just really manipulative.” And it is, it is incredibly manipulative and it’s incredibly powerfully manipulative. I’m using these devices to gain power for me in order to move the audience to change their minds. Now, why might I do that and why might I ethically be comfortable with manipulating the audience? It’s because if I don’t, they’ll just stay the same. And I truly believe, if they engage with me in my ideas, life will get better for them. I believe it. I don’t know whether it’s true, I don’t know whether it will happen, I can’t see the future. But I’ve experienced before and I believe it now that if they could engage with my content, I totally believe, life would get better for them and I want it so much, I will manipulate them to get that for them.

1:11:22 Mark Bowden: And if they come to me afterwards and go, “Mark, life got no better and you manipulated me.” Well yeah, I should expect that they are going to attack me, that I’m now in trouble and I’m willing to accept that. Because what I’ve experienced is, is they come to me afterwards and they go, “That was great and I did it and everything got a whole lot better.” And I think to myself… And they’ll even say, “I know you totally manipulated me, but thank you. Thank you for doing that because I wouldn’t have gone out and done it.” All the same. That’s my thoughts on status. All of us have often got enough that we can give it out, we can give other people status. We don’t need to raise our own, we’re already on the stage, we’re already on the prime position. We’ve already been given, once we stand up on that stage we by default now have the leadership role and it’s our job now to give out status to others. Does that make sense for you, Michael?

1:12:26 Michael Port: It sure does. And you have, without a doubt, delighted me tremendously. And I know you’ve delighted all of us and I am so thankful that you spent this time manipulating us, you have made our lives better as a result and I am so appreciative. I probably shouldn’t say this but this is definitely one of my favorite interviews that I’ve done so just don’t tell anybody else that, we’ll just keep that that between us.

1:12:55 Mark Bowden: We’ll cut that bit out of the interview. Well look Michael, it’s been great talking to you because I know you’ve experienced all these things yourself, you work with them, you work with them with your clients, your audiences as well. So it’s always great to speak to somebody who is biased towards me maybe in the first place and loves it as well.

1:13:17 Michael Port: That’s right. So listen, is where you can find Mark, you must read his books, Winning Body Language is a great book to start with, control the conversation, command attention, and convey the right message without saying a word. Mark, thank you so much for being here, I really appreciate it.

1:13:38 Mark Bowden: Oh, my real pleasure. Thanks very much for having this chat, Michael.

1:13:42 Michael Port: So if you liked the program, go ahead review and rate. We love getting five star reviews, thank you so much. And until next time, keep thinking bigger about who you are and about what you offer the world, I love you very much, not in a weird way, not in a stalker kind of way but I love you for being the big thinker that you are and for being somebody who cares about other people and influencing them positively. So we’ll see you next time.