Often people get stuck thinking primarily about their careers, and if you throw them in a room with other people who are not part of their industry, they only have a little to discuss. You must know how to ask questions and listen well in such situations. You can do as I like and pick up a quick book that outlines the information about different industries that may not be my own. When you read about various sectors, whenever you are in a room with people in that industry or have those interests, you can talk with them and ask pointed questions about their industry. Everyone is an expert at something because everyone has different interests; most times, their interests only come up once you are conversing with them. We also assume that just because someone is part of a specific industry, they must always want to talk about that industry, which is only sometimes the case.
For instance, you might meet someone who is an accomplished attorney, but in their free time, they are also a Carpenter; they might also be into golf, or they may be into gardening, and you can't get to those little details of a person's personality or what they're interested in if you're always talking specifically about their work. I advise my clients to stop asking questions specific to a person's employment and open up the conversation to include their other interests. Some people love what they do for a living, and it's all they want to talk about, but not everyone shares that enthusiasm about their work. For some people, work is a means to an end, and they have other interests they'd rather discuss. So when meeting people, I suggest not asking what they do for a living; instead, I suggest that you ask them the following;
How do you spend your free time?
What passion projects are you currently working on?
Do you play any sports?
What hobbies are you currently interested in?
These questions open up the conversation in a way that a career question cannot. When you allow someone to talk about how they choose to spend their free time, they'll provide you with more information, and it won't be a conversation that reminds them of work.
Another reason you don't want to ask someone what they do for a living is that only some work. Some people invest their money for a living, they're retired, or their job may be confidential. So asking the work question will inevitably lead to a one-sentence answer or make someone uncomfortable, so it's best to allow them to elude to what they do on their own without you prying and asking about their employment.
So the next time you're at a social event, and you want to make small talk with someone if you have the information about the crowd you will be mixing with.
(Pro tip for any Hostess if you are hosting a party and you're inviting individuals to the party where it will be an intimate gathering, it is helpful to let people know who's coming and a little bit about them because that can also help people to prepare for your party and have much to talk about)
If you don't have a host that gives you that type of information, that means you'll have to learn about the person on the fly, and you also need to have some questions that you can ask them to help you converse with them naturally. So recap, whenever you are in a social situation where you're meeting people for the first time, do yourself a favor and be well-read on the news and what's happening in the world currently so you have some things to talk about; please steer clear of political topics and steer clear of religion but anything else is free game.
If you're in a room of people with different interests than you and don't know much about their interests, it's best to ask questions rather than make broad statements.
Being well-read helps you converse naturally with those who may have different interests.
Do not ask people about their employment; instead, ask open-ended questions about their passion projects and how they spend their free time, and you'll see that the conversation opens up to you differently.