Small talk varies slightly depending on where you are and who you're chatting with. If you're talking to strangers, for example, you're going to use more general topics then if you're having a conversation with an acquaintance at an event. These ice breakers are good for business lunches or parties, where the event itself helps give you common ground.
While you're still strangers with most people in the room, you might know a few details about them, the host, or other facts that you wouldn't know about the average stranger. Use that as an opener for small talk.
How Do You Know the Host?
As they answer this question, look for clues that might connect the two of you. If they say they don't know the host (and you do) for example, you can give them some background. Or, if someone other than the host invited you, you can talk about the people you know and why they asked you to come to this event.
Have You Attended This Event in the Past?
Find out how often they come to this particular event. In doing so, you can establish a pattern of interest, either in their charity work (if you're at that type of function), the friendships they keep, or even their hobbies.
As they answer your question about past events, listen closely to pick up on similar interests that you share. Remember, if you both show up at the same event, you must have something in common, even if it's just the fact that you both want to get out and meet more people.
What Do You Do For a Living?
Follow this question up with, "Why did you choose that line of work?" Usually, people are happy to explain why they chose a certain line of work over another. Or, they might share that they always wanted to do something else, and instead went into their current line of work to please a parent or because it paid better. You'll have a wealth of conversational opportunities because people generally enjoy talking about themselves in this manner.
Tell Me About Your Family
By starting the question with "Tell me," you're inviting them to share more than just a one-word answer. Another question to follow this up with is, "How does your daughter feel about... (a current news item, what they do for a living, the weather, etc.)"
Asking them to share this opens up the door for more intimate discussion, where someone not only talks about their personal life but provides details they usually don't share with the average stranger. As a result, getting them to talk more about their family can help you bond quicker.
Give a Quick Anecdote About Something That Happened to You Recently
Sharing a bit about yourself is a good way to get another person to open up, but be careful not to go on and on without allowing them to respond. Remember, the goal is to find out what you both have in common, which means chatting in order to find a common point of interest.
A good way to do this is to say something like, "We barely made it here on time! Traffic was a nightmare. I usually drive in the off-times because I work at home. What do you do for a living?" Or, "I was just thinking about my daughter. We're teaching her to drive, and I can't stop worrying. Do you have kids?" Or, "We were up all night with a brand new puppy. Pardon me if I yawn! Have you ever had to train a puppy?"
What Do You Like to Do When You're Not Working?
Getting an acquaintance to open up about their off-time will help them to view you in a new light. Once they start talking about how they spend their weekends, they'll also share more about their hobbies, family, or even desires on how they wish they could spend their time. These will get you out of the small talk zone quicker because you're much more apt to find a connecting point.