I have had several readers ask me what things they should consider when making small talk and how to prepare in advance.
My recommendation is to think about your opening before the event. What things can you talk about that would quickly help you build a commonality? The easiest, of course, is something about the event itself (for example, if you're at a conference, asking what his/her favorite break-out has been).
Another tactic is to seek advice about a topic. Most people are excited to open up when you are asking about something they have knowledge on and are passionate about (plus, most people love to give advice!). Tap into that.
What else can you do to prepare? I recommend, prior to the event, thinking through these:
* What is your story? (your 'elevator pitch')
* What are three things that you enjoy talking about?
* What are five (safe) current events that you are familiar with?
* What have you been reading lately and what have you learned?
* What is something (personally or professionally) that you would like to learn?
Finally, be open to people who may want to meet YOU. You may be surprised at what additional opportunities may come about when you are open and sincere with others.