Masters Forum Speaker Series Comes to an End

The program's declining attendance, which prompted the decision, is attributed to factors that include the recession, the tech bubble, increasing demands on people's time, and the proliferation of information that's available at no cost.

After 23 years of hosting leadership-related seminars that have featured some big-name speakers, The Masters Forum's leaders announced Wednesday that they've decided to end the speaker series due to low attendance.

The Masters Forum-which has featured more than 200 speakers including the likes of Peter Drucker, Jim Collins, and Gary Hamel-will not finish its 2010 season, said co-founder Tom Miller.

The speaker series reached its peak in 1994 and 1995, at which time “well over” 600 people were registered for the year-long speaker series, Miller said. The forum continued the momentum with more than 500 registrants until 2002, at which time attendance was cut in half and has steadily declined ever since.

Right before it ended, tuition for The Masters Forum was $2,200 for a full-year of eight, half-day sessions-which are broken down into two semesters. For the past few years, the sessions have taken place at the Thrivent Auditorium in Minneapolis.

Only about 50 people were registered for the fall semester of seminars, and that's after the forum's founders went on calling and e-mail sprees earlier this year to try to garner more attendees.

“We don't have the resources to go forward anymore,” Miller said.

Miller attributes the attendance decline to a variety of factors-including the recession, the tech bubble, increasing demands on people's time, and the proliferation of information that's available at no cost.

“The time has passed for this business model,” Miller said. “The information, the ideas that these speakers bring, is available through all sorts of electronic media. It's pretty easy to get it free.”

For example, one of the forum's past speakers-Clayton Christensen-charges about $65,000 for speaking engagements. But two of his speeches are available for viewing on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Web site, making it difficult to convince people to pay to see him at seminars like those hosted by The Masters Forum, Miller said.

Past attendees of The Masters Forum have indicated that they've been very satisfied with the sessions. “The feedback has been consistently excellent,” Miller said-but it hasn't been enough to keep attendance at the roughly 300-person minimum needed to make the program economically viable.

Miller and fellow co-founder Jim Ericson don't know precisely what they'll do next. But Miller said they plan to spend some time promoting See New Now, a book that they self-published late last year. Consisting of 24 short stories and corresponding commentary, the book includes some lessons from previous forum sessions and is intended to be a tool for work groups, managers, and leaders.