Eight years ago I took a personal development course that utilized techniques that bordered on those of a cult.
On the first day (after you sign up for the course and they have your money ($500 plus) )they start to outline for you some of the rules of engagement.
The rules seemed normal enough: show up on time, participate, don't text or take emails. However the execution of the rules bordered on embarrassing and belittling.
Once we entered the room the motivational personal development speaker admonished a couple of people who walked in a few minutes late. She accused them of never truly taking their life commitments seriously.
The seminar leader shrugged off their excuses like traffic, bad weather and more exclaiming that if you are really committed you would be on time.
At the beginning of the seminar we all had to stand and take an oath to be on time. I make time comitments all the time, but I don't need to stand and take an oath to ensure my compliance.
Next, we were bound to specific bathroom break schedules and to having complete and accurate homework assignments. The seminar leader handed out a written agreement for us to individually sign saying we know these rules and agree to obey.
What seemed weird about it is that it reminded me of a parent punishing a child, except we were adults. By limiting our basic personal freedoms and decision making powers, the motivational speaker had taken a strong position of power. It symbolizes giving in to someone elses demands, and not questioning the rules of the group
The basis of a cult is the same, members of the group submit to follow the rules while slowly giving up personal freedoms to the rules of the cult. They are asking people to comply with group norms instead of their own ideals. Participants are encouraged to appreciate the power of the motivational speaker and group norms over their own ideals and decisions.
Any learning experience should engage people fully versus asking them to submit to others.
The essence of this personal development course was to ask participants to share thoughts and the seminar leader would explain why they are wrong while the group theory is right.
Read: Motivational Speaker Strategies to Avoid Offending your Audience