Twenty years ago I started to work professionally as Forrest Gump. Here is that story.
“Your new identity will protect you from the world precisely because it is not “you”; it is a costume you put on and take off. You need not take it personally. And your new identity sets you apart, gives you theatrical presence. Those in the back rows can see you and hear you. Those in the front rows marvel at your audacity.” ― Robert Greene
- Part 1 – The Start & Big Picture
- Part 2 – Becoming Forrest
- Part 3 – The Need to Get Good
- Part 4 – Crowd Control
- Part 5 – Jokes & Gags
- Part 6 – Crossing the Line / Mistakes
- Part 7 – Media
One event repeated itself twenty times during my career as Forrest Gump for Bubba Gump Shrimp. That event was my grand entrance into the general employee meeting at new restaurant openings. Following my entrance, I would give an 8 to 10-minute highly-theatrical speech.
Those twenty theatrical performances were the initial seeds that would eventually grow into my current speaking business.
Two weeks prior to a new Bubba Gump restaurant opening, the location managers would hire 100 to 200 new employees. New employees went through an extensive training period. About two or three days prior to the grand opening, an ‘all employee’ meeting would be held. Forrest Gump’s appearance was the capstone of that meeting. My grand entrance and initial appearance in front of the new employees was melodramatic.
Prior to that meeting, the new employees were in training for about a week. Bubba Gump hired for personality as opposed to hiring for previous restaurant experience. Their hiring motto was we can teach you the skills, but we hire you for your fun and outgoing personality. And because Bubba Gump’s brand was all about fun and energy, that first week of training often felt like a series of mini pep rallies.
The all employee meeting was the ultimate pep rally. They were being slowly cooked to a boil as the week progressed. The employee meeting was the moment the pressure valve blew off.
The meetings followed the same format:
- The new General Manager served as MC
- The GM introduced all the local managers
- The out-of-town trainers were all introduced
- The out-of-town corporate staff was all introduced
- The president of Bubba Gump Shrimp was introduced and gave a speech
- Forrest Gump enters the room, interrupts the President’s speech, and gives his own speech
Needless to say it was pure bedlam by the time Forrest made his entrance to wild and frenzied hoots and hollers of the new employees. Some would burst into tears overcome with emotion.
While it was intended to appear as a spontaneous moment, it was the theatrics that Bubba Gump commonly engaged. My entry and interruption of the president’s speech was planned down to the word. While I was sequestered backstage, he’d tell me, “When I say, ‘We only hire the best of the best’ after telling them that they are the best … you make your entrance.”
Sometimes the door was stage right or stage left. A few times I entered from the back of the room and slowly walked up the center isle until everyone saw me. Frequently, I would run into the room and stop center stage with a deer caught-in-the-headlights look. In whichever manner I actually entered, it was planned how, when, and where.
The president would act surprised by the whole interruption.
I’d slowly move toward the microphone and take control of the room.
I would deliver my “I’m the real Forrest Gump … the one they made the movie about” story that was mentioned in Part 2?.
The first 3-4 minutes of my speech would be almost identical for each new grand opening.
The last 5 minutes presented an opportunity to ‘personalize’ a message to the particular city. I always tried to create some new material each time.
The pandemonium from entering would quickly turn into a combination of spellbinding storytelling and comedy routine.
My time on stage would end with me coaxing the crowd to chant. “Run Forrest Run” … I’d pretend I couldn’t hear them. They’d get louder and louder until the moment I’d jump off the stage, run down the isle, and run right out the door. I’d then position myself by that door and high five and offer chocolates to all the new employees as they exited the meeting room and returned to the restaurant.
Those employee meetings were my first taste of speaking. Sitting on the bench was performing art – standing in front of the room was speaking.
That experience of speaking in front of the room planted the seed that has since grown into my current speaking/conference host business.
Bubba Gump management and staff loved it.
The new employees loved it.
It was pure theatrics … I loved it.
Next up. Part 9: Fighting Boredom