Modeling Resilience: Meet Charles Hunt, The "UNBREAKABLE" TEDxCharlotte Speaker

On October 28th over 1,000 people assembled in the Dale F. Halton Theater at CPCC for TEDx Charlotte 2016. The event has grown in popularity every year and 2016 was no exception. Attendees came looking for ideas worth spreading and to hear thought provoking talks. Few left disappointed. There was one talk in particular that stood out to me and most everyone I have spoken to since. That talk, “What Trauma Taught Me About Resilience” was delivered by Charles Hunt, the founder of the Audacity Firm

I know Charles personally having worked with him several years ago within the same organization, both of us in jobs that were less than inspiring. We stayed in touch via LinkedIn, but I was surprised to see Charles standing before me and 1,000 other people on the stage at TEDx. Charles showed me and others a side of him that I had never seen before. Rather than talking about resilience and theories that support the concept, Charles modeled resilience, telling his story in the most compelling way possible while captivating the audience.

After cornering him during the lunch break at the event followed by several email exchanges and lunches, I became fascinated by Charles’ journey to the stage at TEDx. It was certainly unique. Broken home, poverty, multiple college degrees, corporate career, on his journey to being an entrepreneur, he overcame incredible odds and adversity to arrive at the place he is now. In his own words; Charles is “Unbreakable”, and looking at his results, it is hard to argue. 

While what was presented on-stage has created quite a buzz, as I learned more about his path, his outlook on life, and his journey to the stage, my attention shifted from the finished presentation at TEDx to the fascinating back story of how it came to life. In formulating his talk Charles set out to be both selfish and selfless at the same time. He knew he had a story to inspire, but in telling the story he could also propel himself in a positive direction. You see, Charles needed to share his tough upbringing and all the hurdles he had to overcome to prepare himself for what lies ahead. 

Preparing for a TEDxTalk is not an easy task, as Charles shared with me. Back in January he got the idea to do a talk on resilience, recognizing not only the value of it in his own life, but in everyone’s lives. After banging out a thoughtful application over the course of two days, he submitted it to TEDxCharlotte for consideration, not knowing he was one of about 150 applicants who also applied. It would be several months until the response came in April inviting him to come give a five-minute pitch at auditions held in early May. Following the advice from a friend of a friend who had recently given a TEDxTalk (Kenya Jackson-Saulters, TEDxGreenville), Charles set out to answer the following three questions in his audition:

  • What is your idea worth spreading?
  • Why is it important to you?
  • Why am I the person to deliver the message?
“Given that I only had 5 minutes, plus we were five months before the actual event date, I didn’t have my entire talk completed nor the time to deliver it during the audition. I felt addressing the three questions would provide a clear picture vision for what I hoped to achieve and why it would be valuable to TED.”

With the applicant list paired down to about 50 invited to audition, Charles wound up being one of the 15 finalists selected to prepare to hit the stage. From 150, to 50, to 15, he was on his way! Next came the hard part...turning an idea into a talk. 

Charles spent months working on this talk, honing the message and considering various ways to deliver his talk under the working title “The Power of Resilience”. In September, he started working with TEDxCharlotte coaches to refine his talk. Despite months of preparation and planning, the first coaching session did not go so well. “Who knew a 17-minute theoretical and lecturing talk on the origins and principles of resilience wouldn’t be received as engaging, informative, and entertaining!”, Charles jokingly recalls about the difficult experience. Though it was tough feedback to receive after months of preparing, Charles’ mental toughness had taught him the importance of self-awareness and to seize the feedback as an opportunity to dig deeper, reframe, and improve his talk. His coaches were very explicit about not wanting to put words in his mouth, but also encouraged him, based off the parts Charles had shared about his past, that his modeling of resilience in his life was potentially more valuable than explaining the theory of resilience. Recognizing that the “use of self” was his most powerful tool for conveying his message about resilience, Charles scrapped his planned approach in favor of a more authentic, richer experience, for him and the audience. What followed was an incredibly raw, vivid, and personal stage conversation where Charles addressed his past self, his present self and his future self. His candor and willingness to be vulnerable also allowed all others to eavesdrop on the conversation, and pull something out of the session for their past, present, and future selves too! Quite simply, not only did Charles model resilience on the TEDxCharlotte stage, but in his life leading up to and immediately before captivating the stage.

I highly encourage you to watch the video: “What Trauma Taught Me About Resilience” by Charles Hunt. To learn more about his journey to the TEDx stage check out the podcast interview with Charles. Resilience Interview with Charles Hunt