In 2008, working at Google straight out of college was many people’s dream come true. So, when Jay Acunzo found himself miserable in that very situation, he thought something was wrong with him.  

For three long years, he pressed on despite his discomfort. Then one day, he was showing his friends a YouTube video when they were interrupted by a pre-roll ad. His friends became frustrated because they wanted to get to the good stuff, and Jay found himself frustrated, too  — but for deeper reasons.

“I had this knot appear in my gut because I recognized that this was my colleague’s work,” Jay recalls. “He was responsible for selling this campaign, and I realized that I had the same job at Google. I was responsible for slightly worse experiences in other people’s lives.” 

That was a light bulb moment for Jay. Nothing was wrong with him; this just wasn’t the work he wanted to be doing. He gave his notice to Google the next day and got busy looking for work that would satisfy his real goal: to tell interesting stories and do work that matters.

“I didn’t want to make people like stuff. I wanted to make stuff people liked.” 

Now, as an author and storytelling consultant, Jay gets to do that every day. He helps experts and entrepreneurs develop their big ideas through offerings including the Creator Kitchen mastermind, the Unthinkable podcast, public speaking engagements and more.  

“You’re Not an Expert. You’re an Explorer.” 

Because life isn’t simple, Jay didn’t simply go from Google to his current career. After leaving Google, Jay worked for a few companies, including a pre-IPO HubSpot and a VC firm. He also accumulated side projects as he explored questions and conducted thought experiments. 

At the end of 2015, on a whim, he sent a message to Andrew Davis, a marketing speaker and author, in hopes that Andrew could come speak to a community group Jay was running. But when they met, Andrew had a proposition for Jay instead: He was starting a management company for emerging business authors and speakers. Would Jay want to be a guinea pig? 

That was how Jay learned how to be a professional speaker and how to develop franchises. Those became the focus of his work before the pandemic. Since then, he’s continued evolving, now helping clients with premise and story development (more on that shortly!).

During Jay’s time with Andrew, he discovered that, while other people may decide that you’re an expert, influential, inspiring or whatever else, your job is not to show up as those things. 

“You’re not an expert. You’re an explorer,” Jay says. “And the first thing you’re exploring is what sits inside of you. What in you observes the world and feels frustrated by something everyone accepts? What are you curious about that no one else understands? And then you can go and investigate that.” 

Jay started to understand that people use content to share their expertise, as if they’re descending from the mountaintop with their discoveries. Yet what many authors, speakers and comedians understand is a different approach — taking those questions or frustrations you have, exploring them and developing a premise. 

How to Develop Your Premise

Before you tell a story, ask yourself: “What’s the premise?”

A premise starts with frustration or curiosity. Are you angry about the way something’s done or adamant it should be done differently? Are you confused about why people accept or embrace a certain thing? 

Good! The word “should” indicates you’ve got a potential premise on your hands. 

A premise is three things:

  1. Specific
  2. Defensible
  3. Pulled from your personal vision for the audience 

Note that a premise isn’t your topic. It’s not what you explore; it’s how you explore it, which gives people a reason to care. Similarly, a premise isn’t a niche. A niche can be helpful in defining your market, but it’s not defensible. You don’t own that niche or the idea of it. 

The way you would describe your premise is: 

“This is a _____ (podcast/blog series/etc) about _____ (topic). Unlike other podcasts/blog series/etc, only we ______ (your unique proposition).

For example, Jay’s newest podcast, How Stories Happen, centers on the premise that people should stop looking for storytelling hacks and instead learn how to harness the stories in their own lives. Every episode, he hosts a storyteller who dissects a story — discussing the sourcing, inspiration, development and intentionality. Together, the guest and Jay also discuss how each story might improve. 

You can see that this premise is specific (people need to let go of hacks and focus on finding meaning in their own stories). It’s defensible (people can argue against it). It’s also pulled from Jay’s personal vision, which is to turn his audience into effective storytellers.  

Only after you have a premise can you start thinking about storytelling — a big change from the way many of us think about content! 

By developing your premise first, you establish a lens through which to view your stories, making them much more effective. A common thread runs through all of your content. You aren’t just pushing out commodified content to check off the boxes on your content creation checklist; you’re creating stories that resonate with people.  

Don’t Sit on Your Premise

One place where you’ll see premises is comedy. When a comedian says something like, “You ever noticed that toddlers interrupt you the most when you’re trying to have a serious chat?” — that’s the premise. They’ve made an assertion, and while you might disagree, that’s where they’re taking the audience. 

“I think content creators today need to act more like stand-up comics than experts or thought leaders,” Jay says. That means putting your content out there so you can learn how people feel about it! 

That’s not the norm, however. “When you value having the right answer, what you tend not to do is put it in front of audiences before you’re ready,” Jay says. But by waiting too long, you end up putting out ideas that are overdeveloped and over-researched. You spend time and money de-risking an idea when the actual way to de-risk is to start telling other people about it.  

“I didn’t want to make people like stuff. I wanted to make stuff people liked.” 

Premises break down when you don’t explore your ideas in public. Show up. Have an opinion. For Jay, LinkedIn is his small comedy club where he tests things before he rolls them out in more high-stakes ways, like on his podcast or his website homepage. 

No matter what type of social media following you have, you gain valuable intel from whether people react to or engage with your content. When something’s not hitting, it’s tempting to think we need to reach more people, but if the people who already know and like us don’t engage with the work, why would anyone else? 

The problem usually isn’t reach; it’s resonance. “Instead of thinking about the volume of your content, think about the power of your content and ideas,” Jay recommends. “Can you make something higher impact? That’s what a premise does. It allows you to say, ‘I know a lot of other people talk about these topics, but not like I do.'” 

Find Little Life Moments to Draw Stories From 

There’s an Ira Glass quote Jay is obsessed with: “Great stories happen to those who can tell them.” 

“What he’s saying is, you don’t experience stories — you experience life, and then you turn that into stories,” Jay explains. “It’s a created act. It’s a craft. 

“In the business world, we think we need to experience something profound or find a way to summarize ‘My Story,’” Jay continues. “No. First of all, you don’t need to do anything newsworthy. Just find a bunch of noteworthy things and save those.”

Jay also cautions against the “My Story” approach, noting how he is a collection of many stories “pulled from my perspective, my life, my observations, my interviews with people. It’s the created craft that goes in between, where I have this little thread I want to pull, and now the audience gets something that moves them.”

Think of it as a three-part formula: 

  • Process: Identifying the story and laying a structure on it. 
  • Posture: How you see yourself in the world. What’s your tone of voice? What’s your perspective? 
  • Practice: Showing up on a recurring deadline — not because you feel inspired to that day or because you have all of the answers, but because you promised yourself you would. 

“If you can just start with practice and posture, if you can observe the world, be sensitive to it, take those little lived moments and turn them into something powerful through the practice, your process will emerge around you and your style,” Jay says. 

Remember the premise of Jay’s new podcast, How Stories Happen? It’s worth repeating: There’s no one right tool or system you can use to tell better stories. Instead, you need to learn to direct the mess of your life and move through it more joyfully because that’s where the good stuff happens. 

“I like to joke that AI and people both operate foundationally on LLMs. So AI has large language models, but people have little life moments,” Jay says. “And guess what? We’re not drawing on or relying on our LLM nearly enough, but the people who do, you walk away thinking, ‘Not only was that idea memorable and going to impact me, but I want more.’ And that’s our job.”