8 Lessons from the Paper Towel Guy

Who knows how or why I was bewitched into watching this video over the holiday recess, but I did.  After a chuckle, I started pondering. Joe Smith provides a darned good object lesson in how to teach. If you’ll devote a few minutes to watching his spiel, I’ll share what I learned.


  • He has great energy.  How often have I slogged into class, stooped under a load of concerns professional, domestic, or personal, to begin a session with a complete absence of enthusiasm for my topic? And this guy is excited about paper towel usage. Just observe his body language.
  • He offers convincing evidence that his topic is important. I teach anatomy and physiology. Human anatomy and physiology. All of us humans have bodies, and if they don’t work properly, we get sick and die. I should be able to explain why my topic is important.
  • He doesn’t assume that we know anything about paper towel usage. If you had never washed your hands before, you could understand his message and follow his instructions.
  • He doesn’t just talk, he demonstrates.
  • He provides a helpful mnemonic. In fact, he offers several.
  • He involves the audience as he teaches. He reinforces his points by having the class respond verbally and repeatedly.
  • He shows that his technique is useful in multiple scenarios. (Where did he find so many types of towels?) I don’t always explain to my students how information can be useful in other contexts.
  • He is evangelical. His message is tranformative.

I know what you’re thinking.  C’mon, Karen, a lesson using just one paper towel is hardly a life-changing event…except that it is. Proof? During our holiday travels, I visited a number of rest stops, restaurants, and shopping venues. I was suddenly aware of how many paper towels folks used in the ladies’ rooms. And I found myself using just/one/towel and enjoying the righteousness of shaking and folding. Thanks, Joe!


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