Nobody really likes small talk and it's certainly one of the more boring tasks we all go through. We've mentioned how sharing small details during small talk is a really good way to gauge interest in a subject and start up a real conversation. We're all hard-wired to share information about ourselves, but in order to get to a point where you're having a real conversation, it's important to show interest in another person first.
People love to talk about the news, and it's an easy way to step up boring bits of small talk and turn it into a fun conversation. The idea is that if you can find a few bits of relevant information you can take an otherwise boring small talk conversation and direct it toward something more interesting. The basic idea running through all of these suggestions is to find the hook in the small talk and pull it out so you're both on common ground.
Mastering small talk will help you find common ground to create a mini-bond with new contacts. Ideally small talk will uncover common interests, business alignments, the six degrees that separate you, potential need for your product or service, and basically whether or not you enjoy each other's company. The goal of conversation at functions is to establish enough common ground to determine a reason to connect again. Keeping a conversation rolling is simple when you learn to listen and ask appropriate probing questions that naturally grow from the dialogue.
For example, say with a smile, "Well, that's one issue we're not going to solve tonight," or simply close the conversation with "I certainly understand your perspective," minus the "but" that is sitting on the tip of your tongue. When it comes to small talk, don't think you must say something strikingly intelligent each time you speak. By determining in advance what interests you, half of the equation for stimulating conversation is complete. I must admit, after attending hundreds of events and interacting with thousands of people, there are times when I feel small talk is simply a dreaded requirement.
As far as I can tell, most people, while engaging in real-time conversations, do not feel this discomfort of having insufficient time and resources to verify the other participant's claims (or for that matter, to make sure that one's own speech is not erroneous). Only conversation provides rapid enough feedback to make most of what the other person says relevant. In many sorts of cooperative efforts, live conversation (possibly aided by manual writing and drawing) enables rapid exchange of ideas that will converge onto the correct conclusion more quickly than written communication. In many cases, human conversations have the goal of resolving some sort of conflict, in the broad Schellingian sense of the term. Various signaling elements of live communication are highly entertaining, especially when coupled with eating, drinking, and other fun activities that go pleasantly with a conversation. Finally, when the conversation isn't about solving some predetermined problem, the environment around you can provide interesting topics for discussion, which is clearly impossible if you're just sitting and staring at the monitor.
Yes, I agree there are some situations where live conversation is helpful, such as the first two bullet points in your list. I was mainly talking about conversations like the ones described in Kaj's post, where the participants are just "making conversation" and do not have any specific goals in mind.

In this particular context, it should be noted that human conversations whose purpose is fun, rather than achieving a predetermined goal, typically have a natural and seemingly disorganized flow, jumping from one topic to another in a loose sequence.
I guess what I'm really interested in is whether I'm missing out on something really great by not participating in more live conversations (that aren't about solving specific problems). I seriously wouldn't mind the verification effort if done by a fast googler, and quietly thinking for a few minutes regularly is Awesome for conversation. I'm always happy to talk about my job; being a prosecutor means you've got a storehouse of stories. In conversations where I am relatively equally situated with my counterpart as far as knowledge, it's pretty easy to disagree while having a great conversation. We did this because we conceded points that were true, and we weren't on The Only Right Team of Properness; we were talking about ideas and facts that we mostly both knew. But there's something really fun about electric conversations that I think you're missing here.
I never know how in-depth I should go into a conversation and I'm just not that into talking about the weather. While a lot of small talk is based only on the fact you're standing next to someone and have to say something, the real goal is to find a common ground to spark up a conversation.
Initiating and maintaining conversations while networking is a necessary skill, and one you can easily improve with these simple tips. Small talk may feel trite and unimportant, but it's the small talk that leads to the big talk. It's during these small conversations that people form their opinions about whether they like you, trust you, and believe you're competent.
Learning what people do and perhaps about some of their big developments or projects is about the extent of the business talk expected. If you don't talk business at all you may miss an opportunity to communicate who you are, what you do, and what you have to offer and that you are competent in your field.
If those thoughts don't shift my attitude, I'll set a personal challenge to create a super-duper fantastic conversation with a new contact. If you locked him up in an empty room with grey walls, it would probably take the man about thirty seconds before he'd start analyzing the historical influence of the Enlightenment on the tradition of locking people up in empty rooms with grey walls.Likewise, in the recent LW meetup, I noticed that I was naturally drawn to the people who most easily ended up talking about interesting things. Wei Dai would prefer to minimize the volatility of his wrongness instead, taking smaller but steadier gains in correctness. In actual conversation I'd suppress this because I suspect the other person will quickly find it extremely annoying.
I get involved in interesting conversations with some frequency; I don't think it's because I avoid verification or am too credulous. Of course, someone has to start the conversation, but if you and your companion actually listen to each other and not worry about what to say next, things will flow more naturally. Just make sure your question is relevant to the topic at hand and not a way to turn the conversation back to you. Talk about a recent experience with your hobby, like, "This past weekend I went up the mountain and had a picnic with my sister.

The last thing you want to do is to appear as the know-it-all who must end conversations as the perceived winner. For some reason, this additional challenge seems to inspire me to get enthusiasm back into the small talk.
People tell me that I am good at small talks with new people but sometimes when I'm not in the mood I struggle. In many instances, you will find what people are passionate about, and the resulting conversations can be Remarkable.
Once this happens, it becomes wildly unlikely that anyone talking with you for more than a minute without feedback will still be saying anything useful. Over-heated conversations can quickly be subdued by simply making a closing agreeable statement that offers little room for a rhetorical comment. These will make it easy for you to swing an otherwise stale conversation into one that makes you a genuinely enthusiastic conversationalist. If that doesn't work, I just remind myself that the person I'm talking with deserves my respect. There were a few occasions when I engaged in some small talk with new people, but not all of them took very long, as I failed to lead the conversation into territory where one of us would have plenty of opinions.I have two major deficiencies in trying to mimic this behavior. Practice in creating transitions between subjects will make it easier to generate such transitions in real time conversations. Even after you've checked the first few references that come up on Google, there is always some non-zero chance that more time invested in research could unearth relevant contrary evidence.
If they give a positive result, what you've been told in a live conversation is only marginally less reliable than what a reasonable time spent googling will tell you.
I usually prefer to let other people talk so that I can just soak up the information being offered.
Exercise your common sense when building and using your own conversational charts.(Thanks to Justin Shovelain for mentioning that Michael Vassar seems to have a big huge conversational web that all his discussions take place in.
I can discuss this more, but once again, unfortunately mostly only in person, but I can take long pauses in the conversation if reminded. On the occasions when a conversations happens to drift into a topic I'm sufficiently familiar with, I'm often able to overcome the limitations and contribute meaningfully to the discussion. Seconds, that I need an ability to more reliably steer conversation into subjects that I actually do have cached thoughts about.Below is a preliminary "conversational map" I generated as an exercise. The top three subjects - the weather, the other person's background (job and education), people's hobbies - are classical small talk subjects. Below them are a bunch of subjects that I feel like I can spend at least a while talking about, and possible paths leading from one subject to another. My goal in generating the map is to create a huge web of interesting subjects, so that I can use the small talk openings to bootstrap the conversation into basically anything I happen to be interested in.

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