When you tell a story, you spark a connection.

That is how humans have communicated since the beginning of time —by telling stories.

Stories have been told since even before humans learned to read and write.

Everyday events became stories to tell children, scribes and priests told stories of religious affairs, and leaders told heroic tales of their adventures.

These stories have passed on through generations: some of them fill up history books, some are integral to culture, and some are embedded in family values.

Why Are Stories Important?

Stories are central to human cognition and communication. We engage with others through stories, and storytelling is a lot more than just a recitation of facts and events.

As human beings, we are automatically drawn to stories because we see ourselves reflected in them.

We inevitably interpret the meaning in stories and understand ourselves better.

But we now live in the fast-paced information age, where information, concepts, and ideas continuously bombard us from every direction. Do stories really matter to us anymore? and How can we find the stories that stick?

Here are six NOTA speakers whose stories matter and will continue to be essential to human existence:

Matt Lindley

Speaker Matt Lindley is an LGBTQ+ diversity expert and former RAF pilot. As a royal pilot, Matt had to hide his true self: however, thanks to an inspirational leader in the Royal Squadron, Matt came out and found his professional and personal strength. Currently, Matt offers great workshops and keynotes based on aviation lessons to reduce human error and to inspire all people about Diversity and Inclusive Leadership.

Cheryl Wills

TV journalist Cheryl Wills previously gripped readers with her popular illustrated children’s book The Emancipation of Grandpa Sandy Wills. The best-selling book is her intimate story about her great-great-great grandfather Sandy Wills and his transformation from Tennessee slave to courageous Civil War soldier fighting for his own freedom. Now, Cheryl is once again using her voice to speak for the silenced and forgotten in her sequel book, EMMA. Emma was Sandy’s wife, a brave and strong enslaved woman. Emma dreamed of being free and literate. She never let her dreams die. Emma had to fight for everything in her life – her freedom, her hope, and the pension she was entitled to as the wife of a deceased soldier. Emma introduces themes like perseverance, leadership and initiative to students while educating them about historic events. If Emma could achieve her goals, perhaps so can all the girls that have come after her, like her great-great-great granddaughter, Cheryl Wills. Today, Emma continues to speak with encouragement, love and discipline to readers so that they, too, can dare to dream and achieve!

Julissa Arce

A school crush once told Julissa Arce that she sounded “like a white girl.” At the time, Arce believed that was exactly what she wanted. But over the years, even after perfecting “accent-less” English, graduating from college, getting a job at Goldman Sachs, and becoming an American citizen, Arce still felt like she didn’t belong. Instead of just trying to fit in as the solution, Arce began to question whether that was the very problem to begin with.

Tiffany Yu

Tiffany Yu is the CEO & Founder of Diversability, an award-winning social enterprise to amplify disabled voices; the Founder of the Awesome Foundation Disability Chapter, a monthly micro-grant that has awarded $49.5k to 50 disability projects in 8 countries; and the host of TIFFANY & YU, the podcast. She serves on the San Francisco Mayor’s Disability Council and was a 2020 Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit. At the age of 9, Tiffany became disabled as a result of a car accident that also took the life of her father. She started her career in investment banking at Goldman Sachs and has also worked at Bloomberg and Sean Diddy Combs’ REVOLT Media & TV. She is a 3x TEDx speaker and spoke on 5 sessions at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. She has been featured in Marie Claire, the Guardian, and Forbes.

Nyadol Nyuon

Nyuon was born in the Itang refugee camp in Ethiopia in 1987, where she lived until the age of four. The family was forced to leave the camp due to conflict in Ethiopia, taking 40 days to walk back to an area then in southern Sudan (since 2011, part of South Sudan). Not long after arrival, Nyuon was separated from her mother. She rarely saw her father, Commander William Nyuon Bany, one of the founders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, as he was away fighting, and died in 1996.

She was raised by various step-mothers in Nairobi, Lodwar and at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, where she did her primary and secondary schooling. It was also at Kakuma where she was inspired by the work of UNHCR lawyers and decided that she too wanted to be a lawyer.Her mother came and found her after her father’s death and when she was about 14 years old, and brought her other siblings to Kakuma. Eight of them lived in a mud house.

In 2005 the family was accepted as migrants to Australia, and Nyuon was 18 years old when they arrived in Melbourne, penniless. After attaining her Victorian Certificate of Education, she earned a Bachelor of Arts at Victoria University before being accepted into Melbourne Law School at the University of Melbourne, where she achieved Juris Doctor. She was helped to achieve a scholarship by one of her professors, and was later given $10,000 by a woman she met by chance at a dinner, who was touched by her story.

Hi’ilani Shibata

A lifelong learner, Hiʻilani Shibata has spent the last 25 years in the field of education, both formal and informal. Born and raised in Hilo, Hawaiʻi, she moved to the island of Oʻahu to attend the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. While finishing her last year in college she was also teaching ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi at Kailua Intermediate school part time and realized that formal education was not her calling.

She then joined the education department of the Bishop Museum where she blossomed in informal education in which sharing the Hawaiian culture through the kūpuna was the mission and she was able to travel all over Hawaiʻi and the United States to share the aloha of our kanaka ʻoiwi.

Hiʻilani dedicated 12 years of her life as the Education Operations Manager at the Bishop Museum and ended that chapter of her life to start a family. Today she still does contract work as a Hawaiian Culture trainer and consultant, she is a full time kumu at a Hawaiian focused charter school, Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao, and with her small ʻohana, mālama ʻāina in multiple spaces on O’ahu. She is the co-founder of Ka Mahina Project where people connect with the Hawaiian Lunar phases and the mahina to find and maintain health spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

Even as technology presents so many dynamic opportunities to create new content, humans will still crave stories so we can make sense of the world. The more information we create, the more valuable stories become, because without them we lose perspective on what matters. And in a world with more information than ever, it’s harder and harder to discern which information truly matters.

Stories help us solve that problem.

If you want to know how to solve a specific problem, you’ll need information, and you can get it from many sources and in many ways.

But if you want to know how to live well, you’ll need stories. And there’s no substitute for that other than living your own story, making mistakes, and learning as you go.
Stories will always matter, now and in the future.

Want to explore further? Are you ready for a good story?
Find our complete list of speakers on our website. If you’re planning an upcoming event, please reach out anytime – we are happy to jump on a call to help you craft the perfect event.