The T-Rex Takeover: How We Smashed a Guinness World Record
Ten days ago, I stood on a stage in downtown Portland, Oregon and looked out on a sea of inflatable dinosaur costumes.
Over the next two hours, the Dino Czar (more on him in a bit) and I facilitated a program that culminated in a big achievement: a World Record!
Three days later, it was on the front page of the Oregonian, and online meme accounts were reposting footage for many millions of viewers. (Just one of them has eight million views at the time of this post.)
Here’s how it went down, and how you too can set or break your own record.
Part I. The Vision
For the final World Domination Summit (known as WDS X), we wanted to do something big to kick off the weekend. Way back in early 2020—pre-pandemic—we had the idea to make it something with T-Rexes.
Many years ago, one of our WDS Ambassadors (the volunteers who help produce the event) began wearing an inflatable T-Rex suit around during WDS week. Everyone loved seeing him pop up on the stage or at various activities.
One T-Rex was fun, so naturally we wondered: what would many T-Rexes look like? After doing some searching, we learned there was a World Record for “Largest Gathering of People Dressed As Dinosaurs.” We decided we would take on this record, in an attempt to smash it back to the stone age. Dun dun dun.
Of course, a funny thing happened OVER THE NEXT TWO-AND-A-HALF YEARS that prevented us from hosting WDS or setting any records. But once we were finally able to produce the event again, we immediately returned to planning the world record attempt. 2022 or bust!
Part II. Requirements (Guinness and otherwise)
The existing record stood at 252 people. To break it, therefore, we’d need at least 253 brave souls to commit to wear T-Rex suits all at the same time.
For the application process, the Guinness company (which, weirdly, has nothing to do with the beer?) has all sorts of additional requirements, mostly to do with documentation. You need to have multiple camera angles and clear evidence that no participants are double-counted. This requires drone photography, individual videos, and a video walkthrough of all dinosaurs complete with an audible count by an observer.
Fortunately, we had experience with that process from previous world records, and we also had access to the all-star WDS media team who could help.
Just one more small detail: in addition to the people we also needed the costumes, aka T-Rex suits, for all participants. This would prove to be quite challenging, considering the global supply chain problems of 2020-2022.
In short, a bunch of things had to come together to make this work:
- A lot of people (253+) who would actually show up
- A lot of T-Rex suits from across the ocean
- A clear plan to produce and document an awe-inspiring dino-friendly celebration
Part III. Supply Chain Survival (and Logistics)
At this point I should introduce the Dino Czar, who in his other life goes by David Van Veen. David was responsible for sourcing the dino suits from an overseas supplier he knew of through a loose connection.
This was a multi-month, harrowing process. We had to pay in full, in advance, and in cash. Then we had to trust that the factory was going to come through. When you’re buying from overseas in situations like these, there is little to no protection or guarantee of delivery!
With language barriers, COVID lockdowns in the city of manufacturing, and the inevitable shipping delays, our stateside arrival date of the suits kept slipping. They finally showed up three weeks before the event—significantly later than we’d anticipated, but of course it could have been worse.
We also needed a bunch of other stuff, including hundreds of batteries (the suits are fan-powered), hundreds of “Dino dots” to mark the spaces in Pioneer Courthouse Square where T-Rex suit wearers would assemble, a commemorative pin for all participants, and more.
The day the suits showed up at David’s house was a great day. He posted pictures in our team chat and everyone was elated. At least that part was done!
With the arrival of T-Rex suits, the sense of pressure shifted. If the plan failed now, we couldn’t blame the supplier. The rest was up to us.
Part IV. Marketing—The Pitch
Okay, so we had the suits … what about the people?
You might think this would be the easy part—who wouldn’t want to break a world record?—but I knew from past experience that it’s harder than it sounds.
What tends to happen is you tell someone about the activity, and they think it’s cool but they don’t want to commit. They say something like, “Oh, that’s fun. Maybe I’ll sign up later.”
This response, of course, is unhelpful. As the organizer, you need people to commit! So we did everything we could to get actual signups. One big thing was we sold tickets for $47 including the costume, deliberately less than our cost to produce the event.
Here’s a secret about producing an event of this scale: most likely you’ll need to subsidize the cost in some way. Renting out and fencing off a major downtown space is expensive. We also needed staging, sound, and security, none of which come cheap.
If it wasn’t for WDS effectively underwriting the renting of Pioneer Courthouse Square (which we used the entire weekend for other events), we would have had to price the tickets much higher. And then, of course, we’d worry that people would think it was too expensive and not sign up.
If all of this sounds stressful: yes it is! You have to go through the stress to get to the fun.
When I first started doing events in theaters, a stage manager told me something I’ve remembered ever since:
“There is always a rehearsal. You can either have your rehearsal in advance, or have it during the actual performance.”
(In other words: you’re going to make mistakes, so it’s better to make them in private and correct as much as possible before the show.)
The world record version of this advice might be: “It’s going to be stressful one way or another, so you can either plan well and stress out in advance, or wait until the day arrives and do your freaking out in public.”
Just like rehearsal, it’s much better to stress in advance. We spent a lot of time working through in great detail what we’d do on the big morning. We also spent a lot of time promoting the registration process and encouraging people to sign up.
Once the day arrived, David and I actually had a lot of fun doing it. As it became clear that we’d hit the numbers, we relaxed. As we saw people following directions (for the most part), we felt confident in our plan.
Finally, as hundreds of dinosaur suits inflated across Pioneer Courthouse Square, we were really, really happy.
Part V. What Can Go Wrong? (Answer: a lot of things.)
But wait! Let’s not skip ahead too much. Remember, we had to stress out to get to the fun. 🙂
I’m a big fan of asking “What can go wrong?” or “What’s the worst that can happen?” Often, the answer gives you confidence and reassurance to proceed—the worst case scenario isn’t that bad!
But of course there are other times, when the worst case scenario is a true disaster.
In this situation we faced numerous worst case scenarios, all of which were well within the realm of possibility and kept us up at night. The biggest ones were:
- Dino suits don’t arrive in time, or they arrive and are defective in some way
- We don’t get enough people to sign up or show up
- Putting the suits on is a nightmare and we lose control of the crowd
- People are unhappy and/or someone gets seriously hurt
In rough order of timeline, here’s how we planned for these worst-case scenarios.
Supply chain snafus: David just kept asking his factory contact for updates, week after week. There wasn’t much more we could do! Some of the communication seemed dysfunctional, but thankfully they came through in the end.
Not enough signups: We pushed it hard, mostly to the WDS community but then to Portlanders as well in the last week. A bunch of signups came in on the day before the event, which is somewhat predictable (people are famously last-minute for these kinds of things) but also a little nerve-wracking from an organizer’s perspective.
Insufficient turnout: getting people to sign up is only half the battle. Just like a political campaign needs to get its voters to the polls, we had to make sure people showed up!
In the last two weeks, we went into what I call “voter turnout” mode. We had our WDS Ambassadors check with attendees when they registered. (“Are you going to the world record attempt on Friday? It’s going to be awesome!”)
We wrote multiple emails explaining how everything would work and encouraging them to show up. I even sent one out the morning of the event, at something like 6:30am while I was sitting on the ground in front of the stage. (Subject: “Don’t hibernate, get down to the square!”)
In short: when producing an event where you need people to show up, don’t be afraid to spam them. They need to know how important it is to honor their commitment and help break the record.
Poor process or unhappy attendees: See the earlier comment about rehearsing for a show. During the WDS Ambassador orientation on Monday night (five days before the event), we did a practice test of David directing a group of five volunteers to get into the suits. He purposefully asked for volunteers who thought they wouldn’t be good at it.
This process was extremely beneficial. We could all watch closely to notice potential issues, and we also solicited feedback from the volunteers afterwards. The rehearsal helped us tighten up the script to provide more specific instructions. Getting into costume is harder than it looks!
Safety: We learned in rehearsal that the biggest failure point was in someone not getting their feet all the way through the costume. If they gave up and tried to put the rest of it on, it would be even more difficult later. They’d likely get frustrated and could even get hurt if they started rushing.
In addition to tightening up the suit-donning directions, we wanted to make everything as safe as possible. The two big rules we instituted for that were:
- No one could put their T-rex suit on until everyone was assembled. This took about thirty minutes, so we made frequent announcements with updates. (Protip: people are usually okay with waiting around as long as they feel informed.)
- After the event ended, everyone had to remove their suit before they could leave. Upon leaving PCS, they could do whatever they want (including put the suit back on for the rest of the day if so inclined) but we wanted to be sure that “our” part of the day provided a clear entry-and-exit point with the inflatable costume.
I’m happy to report that the event was not only highly successful, but we also heard no reports of any serious injury. We even managed to get several people with accessibility issues into suits! (And also one dog, although the dog didn’t count for the record.)
Well, by now you know what happened: we did it! It worked. We needed 253 people to break the existing record of 252, and we ended up with 381—a huge margin.
To be clear, this is 381 people in dinosaur costumes at the same time in the same place. The count doesn’t include me, David the Dino Czar, or our large volunteer team that made everything happen. Only people who were in the suits in the Square were included in the count.
We’re now in the process of submitting everything to Guinness, including the drone photography, individual videos, and a statement from the observer who did an audible count of each T-Rex that was also captured on video one-by-one.
The approval process takes a while, but since we were on the front page of the leading newspaper in Oregon and the meme videos have millions of views, I feel pretty good about it. 🙂
Before this experience, I facilitated three previous World Records with WDS, all of which came with their own challenges:
- The World Float: the most people forming a human chain on open water
- The Great Namaste: the most people doing a series of sequential yoga poses
- Worldwide Waffles: the world’s largest breakfast-in-bed party
Of all four records, however, this was my favorite. It felt whimsical and meaningful at the same time.
One of my best-loved quotes is attributed to Amelia Earhart: “When a great adventure is offered, you don’t refuse it.”
I’m glad we answered the call of adventure in the form of recruiting hundreds of T-Rex volunteers. If you’re reading this and you were there—thank you! You should feel proud.
If you’re reading this and thinking of undertaking an adventure of your own, well, you know what to do next.
Smash that adventure to the stone age! Or, you know, whatever the equivalent metaphor might be.
Thanks for reading. Share this post if you liked it!
Special thanks to: DJ Prashant, Mike Bennett, Tina Hart, Shauna Noah, Steve Harper, WDS attendees and ambassadors