YBD 2022 speaker Samantha Ridgewell on the importance of networking

“It’s great to be back!” was a phrase I heard time and time again during the BIBA conference but for a large number of young brokers, BIBA was the first in-person networking event they had attended.
Samantha Ridgewell

“It’s great to be back!” was a phrase I heard time and time again during the BIBA conference but for a large number of young brokers, BIBA was the first in-person networking event they had attended.

When I was asked to deliver a talk on networking as part of Young Brokers Day at BIBA, I reflected on how different my early insurance experience had been to theirs. When I started my first role in the market (or fell into it, as a lot of people do!) part of the reason I fell in love with it was the people. The openness, inclusivity and relationship-driven aspects of the industry drew me in and have kept me engaged and enthusiastic for 10+ years. The insurance industry is uniquely collaborative and this culture permeates every aspect of it, from top to bottom.

During the pandemic, organisations heroically tried to replicate this culture online (zoom quiz anyone?) and although we all did our best, it was hard to fully replicate the organic development of relationships outside of immediate teams and organisations that has been the key to the success of the industry for literally hundreds of years.

As part of my role with Empower Development, I speak to a lot of graduates and school leavers at the start of their careers and I have always emphasised how important internal and external networks are to a successful career. Over the past two years, as well as facilitating several cross-company online networking groups, I have also regularly reiterated how many more opportunities there will be to build out depth and breadth of networks once we return to in-person working. As the lockdowns began to lift in early 2022 I heard a lot of excitement around finally going into the office and getting to attend these fabled market events but there was something else. Particularly amongst those who had been in the industry a while and no longer considered themselves ‘new’, there was a lot of anxiety.

Where do I stand? 

Do I shake people’s hands?

What do I say?

What if no-one wants to talk to me?

What do you do with business cards?

A lot of this anxiety was completely relatable, most of us probably had similar concerns before our first networking event. For most of us though, these concerns were dispersed by shadowing more experienced colleagues and quickly realising that ‘networking’ is more about speaking to like-minded people about things we have in common than standing awkwardly in a room with a name tag and a drink.

Roll forward to BIBA 2022 and as I looked out into the sea of faces who had turned up to Young Brokers Day I took a quick poll of the audience. How many of them were in their comfort zone networking at this event? How many were finding it stretching? How many were in their panic zone? The results weren’t surprising.

I strongly believe that networking is a skill rather than a gift and with practice and effort can be developed and honed. For the remainder of the session, we ran through the fundamentals of ‘Knowing and being known’. Some of these were helpful reminders of things that they knew but hadn’t applied to business networking, some were new and very specific to insurance events. A lot of them were things that they might have picked up from others earlier in their careers had they not spent most of the preceding two years in a global pandemic.

You can check out the talk here: https://youtu.be/zvQW83_pTpY with  a summary of main points we covered, please feel free to share with anyone who has joined the industry recently or who you know will shortly be joining an would like a little boost before their first event.

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