Tips, tricks and thoughts on starting and continuing great conversations with people you don't know.
People like to talk about themselves. if you touch on something they are into, and encourage them to talk about it, they will remember you as a "great conversationalist" without ever knowing anything about you.
Seal the deal by remembering their name the next time you see them. You will become a Social Wizard. This is easier than people make it out to be: all you have to do is create a mnemonic device to associate their name with.
Say someone tells you that they're travelling to the Amazon rainforest next year. Instead of saying "Cool!" And asking trivial questions about it, think about their motivations (what made them make that choice?), their emotions (how are they feeling about it? scared? excited?) and their character traits (what about them caused them to make such a decision? e.g. they're adventurous, crazy, etc.). Ask questions based around those three points.
Be interested, not interesting.
Build your conversation based off of what the person is showing to other people, not what you want to talk about.
Complimenting or commenting on something someone is wearing is such a great catalyst to a conversation.
Start with some situation appropriate banter - the event, the host, the weather, the waiting for the bus. Move on to the FORD formula, if appropriate (family, occupation, recreation, dreams)
Helping someone in need: Ever noticed that when you have something heavy that you are carrying yourself, you thought you could but it seems harder than it is and someone comes and helps to you carry it, how grateful you feel. Concept is same, try to notice if someone needs any help.
Don't try to start an entire lengthy conversation, just remark something short about the person that you notice.
Confidence helps. You can get away with saying almost anything (within reason) to people if you do it right.
If any of those get them interested/passionate, encourage them to talk on -- try to probe for what makes them excited/passionate about life.
Most important thing to remember is to not expect them to talk back to you, you just noticed something and you found it interesting and you commented on it, thats it. If you stop expecting to have a spectacular conversation, you don't put pressure on yourself and then you become just a fun loving talkative stranger to whom people like to talk.
What do you find interesting? Use that and go with that in the conversation.
Getting out of your head: Don't think too much about what to say next, just let conversation flow naturally.