I am a Ph.D. candidate in the USA, and almost every three/four months, I go to different conferences. I have found it really hard sometimes to start, and more importantly, to KEEP conversations with people, especially those that I know from before: because I know who they are and what they do and where they live and what is the focus of their research and so on!
Also, the people that I am talking about, they are in higher positions than me; like they are not students. I know how to start and keep conversations with students; e.g. how is your research going, when will you finish, what are you going to do after you finish, etc, but they are either professors or post-docs or run huge R&D incorporations and so on. Also no need to mention that they are older than me!
I do not know if this is due to lack of confidence or the fact that English is not my first language, but whatever the reason is, it does not let me communicate with people efficiently and makes me nervous whenever I see those people and I am like what am I gonna do, what do I say, and that eventually results in awkward moments like long moments of silence or saying something completely nonsense!
So, what are your suggestions? What should I do? What are some good questions to ask that can lead to keep good conversations? Like with people that I know from before, all I can say is “hi, how are you, how is everything, when did you get here, how was your flight”. And that's it!! You know I cannot tell them how is your company doing these days or when are you planing to retire and what are you going to do after that!!