Few would argue that networking is an essential practice for business success.

Why, then, are so many people turned off by the process?

I’ve interviewed hundreds of professionals, business people, and executives about this very issue.

Can you guess what the top 3 networking turnoffs were?

The top 3 turnoffs were:

  • ¬†Starting up a conversation with strangers – super uncomfortable
  • Breaking into a group of people already in conversation – even more uncomfortable¬†

And the biggest one of all:

  • Soul-sucking small talk.

I can certainly relate to all of these. I’ve been there too.

But here’s why small talk can actually be a big opportunity for you as you network:

Small talk can actually accelerate the

Know-Like-Trust factor.

How is that? You see, the problem with small talk is not that it’s inane. It’s that we make it boring and inauthentic.

Small talk is really designed to be a “safe” way to give strangers and new connections the feeling that you’re interested in them, their business, who they are, and in building a new relationship with them.

Small talk can include, but is not limited to:

  • Talking about sports
  • Talking about business news
  • Talking about mutual hobbies and interests
  • Talking about common ground: where you grew up, where you went to school/college, who you know in common
  • Yes, the weather as well

And when small talk is falling flat, you’ll know – just check out your colleague’s body language and facial expressions!

But small talk can then graduate to a deeper level when you ask exploring “icebreaker questions” about books read, events attended, and learning about the thoughts and business or career viewpoints of your new colleague.

Think of it this way:

Small talk can be a very graceful way to open bigger doors to the relationship.

How can you begin to make smarter small talk – and stop being an inauthentic bore?

Fundamentally, its critical to avoid resisting the process. You see, what you resist will persist. If you keep seeing networking and small talk as uncomfortable or drudgery, you will prevent or delay the enormous results that networking can produce.

So here are my 5 tried & true, sure-fire ways of transforming inauthentic, boring small talk into authentic business results:

1. Ask great open-ended questions (see my 55 Icebreaker Questions ™ if you haven’t already checked them out and downloaded them).

2. Smile during small talk – such a small action that goes a very long way to building rapport and extending the comfort level between new connections.

3. Apply a small amount of small talk, a big amount of active listening

4. Be prepared – check out the backgrounds and profiles of new networking colleagues before the event. What charities do these folks support, what associations do they belong to, what schools did they attend? Develop and practice a smattering of conversation starters in topics of interest to your new contacts.

5. Be authentically interested. Small talk isn’t inauthentic, people are. If you’re not really interested in people, you won’t be able to hide it.