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#68 – Leading with Purpose and Empowering Voices with Monique Ruff-Bell


In this episode of Tag Lab, Laura welcomes Monique Ruff-Bell, Chief Programme and Strategy Officer at TED.

The conversation dives into Monique’s role at TED, focusing on the identification and selection of speakers, the impact of diverse voices, and Monique’s personal leadership principles.

Monique shares insights on building a high-performing team, fostering a collaborative culture, and the importance of intentionality in both professional and personal life.

Key Topics:

  • Identifying and Selecting TED Speakers
  • Memorable TED Talks
  • Leadership Principles and Team Building
  • Diversity and Inclusion at TED
  • TED-Ed and Global Community Impact
  • Measuring Success and Impact
  • Challenges and Flexibility in Small Teams
  • Industry Innovations and Future Directions

Identifying and Selecting TED Speakers

Monique Ruff-Bell explains the meticulous process TED uses to identify and select speakers. TED employs a full-time curation team dedicated to finding impactful speakers.

This investment ensures that the talks resonate globally. Additionally, the TEDx licensing programme allows local volunteers to host events, uncovering remarkable speakers who might otherwise remain unnoticed.

Monique highlights the discovery of Brené Brown through a TEDx event as a prime example. The core philosophy at TED is that ideas can change everything, sparking inspiration and altering perspectives across diverse fields.

The importance of storytelling in captivating audiences and broadening their horizons is emphasised, illustrating how a single idea can transform technology, entertainment, and society.

“A lot of people don’t know that we have a full-time curation team. Their job is to go out and find speakers to give amazing TED Talks.”

Memorable TED Talks

Monique shares her personal favourite TED Talk by Reshma Saujani, “Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection.”

This talk resonates deeply with Monique because it addresses the impact of perfectionism on women’s careers.

She observes that many women in business dim their light due to societal expectations of perfection.

Reshma’s talk encourages bravery and risk-taking, values often instilled in men but less so in women. Monique sees this dynamic even in job interviews, where women often undersell themselves.

This talk serves as a reminder for Monique to embrace her authenticity and confidence in her professional life, reinforcing the notion that she belongs in high-powered rooms and discussions.

“I still sometimes have to remind myself…yes, it is a pleasure to be in their presence, but it’s a pleasure for them to be in mine too.” – Monique Ruff-Bell

Leadership Principles and Team Building

Monique’s leadership philosophy centres on trust, autonomy, and collaboration. She believes in hiring talented individuals and trusting them to excel without micromanagement.

Monique encourages her team to take ownership of their roles and supports their growth by setting stretch goals.

She fosters a culture of innovation and risk-taking, understanding that occasional failures are part of the growth process.

Monthly solution-oriented meetings ensure that every team member, regardless of their role, contributes to problem-solving.

This approach not only builds confidence but also nurtures a collaborative environment where diverse ideas are valued and implemented.

“There is not a bone in my body that I have any interest in micromanaging anybody.” – Monique Ruff-Bell

Diversity and Inclusion at TED

TED’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is fundamental to its global appeal. Monique explains that TED’s growth hinges on representing a broad spectrum of voices and experiences.

The curation team, as well as the TEDx programme, ensure that speakers from various backgrounds and regions are featured.

TED also prioritises diversity in its partnerships and vendor selections. This inclusive approach is not just ethical but essential for engaging a worldwide audience.

By showcasing diverse perspectives, TED fosters a richer and more relatable content offering, making learning and curiosity accessible to all.

“There’s no way you can have global growth without serving a global community.” – Monique Ruff-Bell

TED-Ed and Global Community Impact

Monique discusses the significant milestone of reaching 20 million subscribers on TED-Ed, TED’s educational platform.

TED-Ed aims to nurture curiosity from a young age, providing age-appropriate content that makes learning engaging and fun. This platform extends TED’s mission beyond talks, integrating into educational settings and reaching millions of students and educators worldwide.

Monique emphasises the importance of growing with the audience, from early education to adult learning, ensuring that TED remains a lifelong resource for curiosity and knowledge.

“We’re growing people up through their entire lives as a place to have your curiosity nourished.” – Monique Ruff-Bell

Measuring Success and Impact

TED measures success through various metrics, including audience engagement, the growth of the TEDx licensing community, and partnerships with businesses.

Monique explains that beyond views, TED values the number of educators using their tools, businesses aligning with TED, and attendees at TED conferences.

These metrics reflect TED’s broader impact on education, professional development, and community building. The success is not just in the numbers but in the meaningful connections and growth sparked by TED’s initiatives.

“There’s a myriad of ways that we measure success in various different areas for us, but we measure success outside of just views.” – Monique Ruff-Bell

Challenges and Flexibility in Small Teams

Monique describes the challenges of working with a small but mighty team, emphasising the importance of prioritisation and vision.

Each year, her team sets clear strategies and goals, which are reviewed quarterly to ensure alignment and flexibility.

This structured approach allows for agility in response to changing circumstances, ensuring that the team remains focused on their core objectives while adapting to new challenges.

Monique highlights the importance of staying accountable and continuously revisiting plans to ensure they remain relevant and achievable.

“It’s all about prioritisation and it’s all about vision. And so it’s really about you can’t do it all and you can’t do it all at once.” – Monique Ruff-Bell

Industry Innovations and Future Directions

Monique shares her excitement about joining the board of the Event Ventures Group, aimed at supporting start-ups in the events industry.

This initiative provides resources and funding to innovative ideas, fostering growth and development in the industry.

Monique’s passion for the events industry drives her commitment to helping new ventures succeed.

She discusses the importance of bringing diverse perspectives to the table, particularly in investment decisions, to ensure a holistic approach to industry innovation.

“We can further this industry in growth…what if we can cut that down in half? What if we can be that place where they can come and really get great resources?” – Monique Ruff-Bell


Monique Ruff-Bell’s insights highlight the importance of intentionality, diversity, and collaboration in driving success at TED and beyond.

Her leadership principles and strategies offer valuable lessons for building high-performing teams and fostering a culture of innovation.

As TED continues to grow and evolve, Monique’s vision and commitment to inclusivity ensure that it remains a beacon of inspiration and learning for a global audience.

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