I attended the Landmark Forum at their NYC headquarters on Friday, Nov 4-6, 2016.
It was intense! And sometimes very tedious and boring. We weren’t supposed to take notes (“Live in the moment”), but I did.
The Landmark Forum is a self-development program.
A few of my friends love it. They have received huge benefits from the Landmark seminars and workshop teachings. Such as: Confidence to pursue a new career, and better spousal relationships.
But some people hate Landmark. They call it a cult, an MLM or a pyramid scheme, or a scam.
Most of my friends have never heard of it.
Spoiler alert: Do I think Landmark is a scam? No. But there is an uncomfortable amount of hard-selling and referral pressure placed on attendees to recruit friends and family to sign up for the Forum.
- Schedule: The Landmark Forum is three full days, 9am to 10pm, plus an evening session. All day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, plus a Tuesday night session.
- Pricing: $665
- Location: Landmark’s NYC offices are at 317 A West 33rd Street, New York, New York 10001 near 8th Avenue.
THE LEADER: Cathy Elliott
Our Forum was led by Cathy Elliott, who has worked with Landmark for 18+ years and led hundreds or thousands of seminars. She sort of reminded me of an Australian version of Carly Fiorina?
Two Sharp-brand 65” LCDs flank either side of the stage with similar sized whiteboards.
Besides this technology, I was struck by the barebones nature of the Landmark facilities. On stage was a collapsible table with a bland, cheap tablecloth. A mixed bouquet of days-old flowers were added for color against the simple fabric backdrop. It feels… not old, or ratty… just… cheap.
Cathy, our Forum leader, later told us that Landmark executives never fly in business class because it eats into their money for growth. Reminds me of the conservative nature of Walmart’s founder Sam Walton.
I took so many notes and I’m not that good at editing. Here goes!
DAY 1: FRIDAY
Friday, Nov 4th 2016. I arrive 15 minutes late to a packed house of 170 people. There are exactly enough seats, so it feels crowded.
Cathy, our forum leader, lays out some ground rules during the Forum:
- No drugs, except for stimulants. No alcohol or drugs which dumb you down or lessen the experience that we’ll be going through.
- No notes: stay present. We’ll be given handouts of the things she talks about (false), and besides, it is better to be present and listen instead of trying to be too analytical. (I took notes anyhow, and I’m glad I did, but it probably did put me into a more analytical mindset instead of taking the inter-personal journey.)
Starts with a Q&A. Someone comes to mic, asks a question, then immediately sits down. Cathy immediately scolds them for sitting down: “Do you want me to talk to you? Stay up at the mic.” She gives hard love and is very direct.
I’m impressed with the diversity of attendees, in race and in age.
- Brown guy, mid-30s, who is a corporate accountant
- Tall black guy who loves physics and music
- White guy who has a face tattoo
- Indian father with a denim jacket, khakis, wearing water socks for shoes
- Late 20s white woman wearing a shirt that says “Does running late count as exercise?”
Question asked to audience: What do you want to get out of this?
About 15 people answer with things like: Love myself, new wife, level up, business success, cure social anxiety.
Like at Tony Robbins, attendees are encouraged to approach a microphone regularly throughout the program. The facilitator is very capable to engage people and unpack their life problems. She’s not afraid to address major issues head-on, like divorce, rape, death, parent issues, etc.
When these 1-on-1 interventions happen, I feel like I’m watching a reality television show unfold. We get to peer into someone else’s life, their big unresolved issues laid bare in front of 170 strangers. And sometimes we get to learn about ourselves through their pain.
Random Thoughts from Friday
- During breaks, we’re encouraged to call people and share our breakthroughs with them. Advice for calling people: Create a context for it, because if you just call to say “I love you” out of the blue, they’ll think you have cancer. So call to say, “Hey, I’m in the Landmark Forum…and I’ve been thinking…”
- Friday: No hard sell but stressing importance of coming on Tuesday – mandatory finale.
- Video: Bob Newhart, “Stop It” – Cathy recommended everyone watch it
- “I got my dad back.”
- Using extreme examples, abusive dad in prison, forgiving him – short stories of abuse.
- Being @ Landmark has made me thankful for my parents, especially. How lucky I am, how much they’ve done for me.
- The Forum is also available for 8, 9, 10-year olds. Also for teens. Kids are so different! Rowdy, wild, but when it comes time to share, everyone raises their hands.
- Spent ~20m on the semantics of the word “possibility”, very confusing.
- “You have no say in what happened. You do have a say in how you deal with it.”
- “The future you’re living into.”
- No cell service, the offices are underground. (I’m later able to get signal if I sit towards the doors.) Hardly anyone is using their phone all weekend. People are very tuned-in to what’s going on.
- 9:30a-10:30a first day content = very good, I’m excited!
- 10:30a-11:30a zzzz – semantics, details, I’m tired 🙁
- LUNCH BREAK 35 min
- “Do you want to live your life in the stands, or on the court?”
- Many people live in a Vicious Circle: What happened -> The Story -> What happened (This will be a constant theme over the weekend)
- Nothing pains me more than sitting through an intervention that isn’t going well or that I’m not bought into.
- Lululemon sends all of their employees to Landmark.
- Person who has PTSD as a military veteran and uses marijuana to relax warned us he won’t be taking it tomorrow in an effort to be more connected. Some concern around this. (He turned out to have the most amazing transformation!)
- Roller coaster analogy: Do not get off! There are ups and downs on the ride of Landmark.
Logistic: “Applaud your partner” doesn’t work well. The intention is for a group conclusion, a group led finale that makes room for the forum leader to take back the stage but people continue talking, not everyone claps for the same length of time.
Logistic: Three microphones, two at front and one at back. Mostly the fronts get used. Adjustable stands, mic can be removed.
Activity: Onstage “Shaped by No” asking person to stand on stage, extend the arm and say “no” as they drop the arm. Seemed cheesy but it was impactful.
Genesis of Identity
This was an important concept that we discussed.
- X + Y +Z Something Happens “I’m on my own” [As a burden]
- X + Y Something Happens “I don’t belong” [Break in belonging]
- X Something Happens “There’s something wrong here” [Failure in being enough]
“In Landmark we confront the trap of being human…It will never be enough.”
Landmark curriculum not prepared for meditation culture. Making fun of “ommmmmmm….” and questioning authenticity of the being present while meditating.
Post-Lunch: People falling asleep, Cathy asking audience to wake up our neighbors.
Person: Man writing a letter to his mistress, breaking up with her so he can focus on his family.
Person: Woman writing a letter to her ex-husband, taking responsibility for outcome.
DAY 2: SATURDAY
2:45 pm First real upsell and mention of the advanced program and additional offerings in a well-produced, modern fast-paced testimonial video.
We see on the video a few kids aged 8-17 talking about how they did the Forum to deal with peer pressure, school stress…funny and scary to hear kids using Landmark language and phrases.
They have a business consultancy called The Vanto Group which does Landmark stuff for corporations.
3:15 pm Superstitions (advanced course)
Repeat question people…
Same people asked like 60% of questions, sometimes this was annoying. Felt like they hogged attention, and yet the facilitator was happy to help them.
Assignment @ 3:45 pm Break
Random Thoughts from Saturday
- Pretend – Hide- Impact – missing – Possibility
- Back from Break , More 1 on 1 work where people come to the microphone and share their experiences from calls they made.
- Father + husband, marriage on the brink.
- Woman who is very angry.
DAY 3: SUNDAY
- No religion, no talk of God
Facilitator is strong, dominant, patient with people to an extreme – rarely interrupts. When she does it is to re-center and get people back on track and focused.
After what seemed like 10 minutes, the coach says, “Stop! Stop! Stop!” or if he gets off track: “Wait, go back, what did you say?”
He goes off track, “No, what did you say?”
Then the bomb, “You do a lot of talking so that you don’t have to deal with anything.”
Authenticity, vulnerability, “Be the real deal.”
Lesson after a long talker: “You should find yourself in this.”
Now someone comes up to the mic and says: “This feels like a fucking sales pitch.” He feels uncomfortable with the recruitment and he immediately gets applause.
Cathy, “Hell yes, I am so glad you brought this up. It is not about the sales pitch…it is about making a difference. First, I get where you’re coming from. I really, really get where you’re coming from. Next, I see the commitment and the dedication you’ve made. I get it, you’ve done a lot.”
Cathy, “Are you ready to have a breakthrough?”
Someday doesn’t exist. There is only now. Now is the time of action.
Thought: Sunday morning feeling a little dark. She’s building us up, or breaking us down, for something big. But wow… the room is very down and depressed right now. (Update: It was a good emotional rollercoaster! She knew what she was doing, and it was necessary. But kinda scary.)
The facilitator (Cathy) uses banter well. She checks in with person on stage, “Rudy, you still with me? You’re doing great up here, you’re really taking one for the team. A round of applause for him please.”
Advanced course upsell comes from a genuine belief that it is a beneficial product, a natural extension that students need.
“When you dismantle that engine… life becomes real simple. You get to create a new canvas.”
Thought: The Tuesday night is essential for sales, but for the facilitator Tuesday night is about closure. It is about acting now, not next week. There is no time like the present.
I timed one of the 1-on-1 interventions: We listened for 33 minutes for 1 on 1 with a man from Mexico, talking about his block. This was normal and we sat through a LOT of these.
Why is Landmark not a non-profit? A non-profit isn’t held accountable like a business. (Museum Hack believes the same!)
Why no advertising? This was a very strategic decision.
Cathy: Flies coach at back of the aircraft. They don’t buy business class airfare as a rule because it eats up money for growth.
“We have a system for anyone. Sexual abuse victims, silver spoons – we have to share it. It is like a cure for cancer.”
The forum’s job is for you to complete your past.
Forum leaders are fearless – they broach the tough subjects. Rape – Racism – Is Landmark a Scam
3:30 pm Sunday: The heaviest part of the seminar. No questions, just Cathy telling us on blast how it is never getting any better. The attitude in the room is very gloomy and depressed.
Another strong pitch re: signing up our friends, following through to make sure people sign up.
“There is no hope.”
You are a meaning-making machine. You can’t stop it. Your life is empty and meaningless. You live like that is real. You spit out stories and soap operas. (People around me: No! That’s not true!)
There is no hope. It will never get better.
(Cathy is on this long “life is pointless and empty” monologue – I’m waiting for the reveal)
Cathy: There’s no hope. Welcome to being human. You’re screwed.
Cathy: When you can accept it for what it is, you have to just be with yourself.
(Laughter coming back – PTSD guy on the mic…Cathy went through a deep inquiry with him)
The machine constantly brings your past into the future.
Constant theme: Cleaning up the baggage, the garbage, the drama from the past.
Live in the moment.
Thinking…”There is no past” = How does that play into credit history, that is the reality.
4:04 pm Cathy made a joke about the decor : )
4:26 pm Like the French guy Sarte, life is meaningless…but Landmark adds more: That doesn’t matter.
Days 1 and 2 lay a foundation for a big reveal on Sunday night.
Well intentioned but uncoordinated or amateur volunteers, example: Handing out the poetry sheets, waiting for Cathy’s cue.
5:32 pm “If you don’t come back after dinner, I have to take you out of the program. You won’t graduate and you have to do the whole forum again to get credit.”
7:05 pm – Lots more seats added to the room! People have invited their friends who are forum graduates!
Cathy invites two people to share, one of whom I hardly recognize. At the start, he was hidden in a hoodie and a ball cap – now he stands up straight in a fitted shirt. (Veteran suffering from PTSD, self-medicated with marijuana, not a dry eye…beautiful story and we can see the physical change in how tall he stands, making eye contact with the crowd for the first time, he is overcome with excitement: “You got a lot of beautiful people here, wow.”
He gets a standing ovation. I tear up.
More coaching: Why is it so important to sign up now and not let them wait until the next day?
Prep for Tuesday: Cathy is telling us about how she’s going to do the sales pitch to sign up. She’s coaching us on how to ensure our guests will sign up – she’ll tell our guests to turn to us and ask, “Will the forum be beneficial to me?” and obviously we say, “Hell, yes.”
She spends a good 5 – 10 minutes coaching us and letting us know how the Tuesday night session will go down.
Amazed that recruits/alumni sit through this Sunday night sales pitch…
Lesson: Distinguish between decision and choice
Calls a volunteer on stage
…plays some word games and semantics.
Decision: to select based on consideration
Choice: To select freely and after consideration
Random Thoughts from Sunday
- There are plenty of mentions of the advanced course. It doesn’t bother me, but I guess it could be seen as sales-y
- ex: PTSD Soldier signed up for advanced, despite no money, friend paying for him – gets applause.
- ex: Someone else – signing up for advanced, more applause.
- Landmark is Zen A.F.
- “You leave the forum with nothing – a clearing, a new space.”
- You put your past where it belongs – in the past.
- Advanced course sell is: Sign up and you’ll get your career and money sorted out.
- Cathy is a Terminator. Strong, presenting for 13-hour days, 3 days in a row.
I’m glad I did it. I enjoyed being in a class taught by a great facilitator. I did not have a major breakthrough like a bunch of people did, but I did get a greater appreciation for certain people in my life.
Compared to Tony Robbins, a lot of the Forum was boring. I found myself falling asleep or losing attention, wishing for one of the Tony Robbins trademark state-pump activities. I was late every day coming back from breaks and didn’t feel an urgency to attend every single minute. I skipped the last night, the Tuesday night finale, because I’ve been to that part before (years ago, from a friend who did Landmark).
I would recommend attending the Landmark Forum if you like personal development, or if you’re struggling with an issue or circumstance from your past and you want a new lens to look at life through. If you’re aware going in that there is pressure to invite others in your life to join Landmark, you’ll be fine. I believe the pressure they imply is from a genuine belief in the benefits of the program, not from a pure financial motivation.
Personal note: These are the most notes I’ve ever taken for something. I struggled to get this blog live, wanting to edit it more or type a better conclusion or introduction. But here it is. Thank you for reading.
We got this handout on Day 3.