Since I'm talking about ideas specific to just starting a conversation with someone I don't know (see last post) here is a conversation starting idea that may have some merit; Offer someone a pedestal to stand on.
I was at a reception for an association of middle market financial advisor's and found myself standing almost alone near the entrance. A gentleman I had not met was standing nearby. I glanced at him (we made brief eye contact and offered each other a quick smile and one of those "hey" head nods)... then looking his way again I closed the distance between us and asked, "Didn't I see you last week when you were on that panel discussing how to negotiate company valuations? By the way, my name is Bruce."
His response was a BIG smile and an engaging conversation. After telling me that it wasn't him on the panel he volunteered where he worked, what he did, and his thoughts on the reception we were at.
So why did that approach work so well? Because I started the conversation by elevating him to a position of importance. He was an instant celebrity (within the context of the professional situation). Even though he had not been on the panel mentioned, I was telling him he looked important. My question promoted him from "wallflower" to "King of the Room". Yes, it's good to be a King.