First of all, please take a note from something Finnish people have known for centuries. There is nothing inherently wrong with silence, in fact, sometimes is just exactly what the situation needs. Do not look upon it with terror or fear. Silences happen and they are part of the natural rhythm of human interaction.
Having said that, there are a few easy tips which will keep the conversation ticking on a first date no matter what, even if you think you are a hopeless bore, an introvert or a special case and genetically unable to keep a conversation flowing.
A good conversation put people at ease, allows you both to get to know each other for who you are, it also acts as a way for you to tell them about who you are, what you believe in and what you find entertaining.
People have studied the art of conversation closely and English even has a word for a professional conversationalist, these people would be prized guests for dinner parties in by gone days. The word we use to describe these people is a raconteur. Defined as a “a person who tells anecdotes in a skillful and amusing way.” It is the pinnacle of the art of conversation. But let’s not set our sights too high. Most of us would settle for even the mildest abilities of being able to keep a chat ticking over.
This is an acronym for Family, Occupation, Recreation and Motivation.
These are the near universally accepted topics for getting to know someone on a first date without stepping on too many landmines. Some examples for each of the categories can be found below:
We all have family, which is why this question is usually one of the universal openers, if they are one of the few rare cases with a family, sympathize and quietly move on to one of the next topics. Don’t be afraid to open up and share details about your family, nothing awkward about how your dad used to beat you, or that your moms a Vicodin addict, that comes later in the relationship and falls under trust building. Keep the topics light hearted and fun on a first date.
– Do you have brothers and sisters?
– What is it like being the only girl/boy/ in the family?
– Where did you grow up?
– Why did you move?
– Are you the oldest or youngest?
Talk about how your jobs are either similar or worlds apart. If you think the person might be unemployed, feel free to ask them instead how they spend their time, which is a nice, unobtrusive way to keep the conversation ticking over.
– What do you do for a living?
– What’s the best part of your job?
– What’s the biggest secret about your profession you can tell me about?
– What’s the most difficult part of your job?
Talk about volunteering, sports, hobbies, and interests such as music and movies. Focus on things you have in common and try and build common ground.
– What’s your favorite type of food or restaurant?
– What do you do in your spare time for fun?
– How did you get into that?
This is all about inviting the other person to open up by sharing what motivates them and allows you both to reveal something a little deeper about each other. This topic should only be used later in the conversation on a first date once you have built up a little more information about the person to ask appropriate questions. This is also an area where the conversation can get a little more playful.
– If time and money were no problem, and you didn’t have to work, what would you do with your time?
– What has made you the happiest in your life?
– Aside from your hobbies and work, what else is important to you in life?
“Interesting! Tell me more…”
Know this: in a conversation, it is the person asking the question that is guiding the talk. Don’t always hold the reins, be comfortable staying quiet and let a natural pause in the conversation happen, this is your way of offering the other person to take the lead and either ask a reciprocated question or one of their own. It’s not all up to you to drag the information out of the person. A good talk is a two way street, so treat it as such.
If the person does not want to take the conversation lead, then move on to another topic or ask them a follow-up question, which gets them talking again more.
Follow-up questions show that you are paying attention, listening and have an active interest in what they are saying. Follow-up questions should not be random, they should be directed and focused and drill down deeper into a topic that genuinely interest you.
Let them be unique
Stories are the sweetest parts of banter. They don’t necessarily have to be about your own life or direct experience. You can take inspiration from everywhere, from friends and family or from TV and life.
If someone shares a story with you, please do not be that person who has to one up each and every anecdote with one of their own. Let them be unique instead of trying to overshadow them. As a really rough rule of thumb, unless you have an amazing life changing experience which really does relate directly to the story they just told… keep it to yourself and let them have their moment of conversation glory.
Where to look
Make sure to listen actively, lean closer when something interests you, and nod your head in agreement occasionally with things you agree with. Do not stare at the person directly in the eyes all the time but, instead, look off slightly to their left or right. Occasionally when you laugh or share a joke, make eye contact and hold it briefly. These tips are intended for only the most severely autistics of readers, as I firmly believe most of us do this naturally.
Using the above tips and guide will help you develop a natural conversation rhythm-and-patter with moments of pause, but not any of the dreaded death silences.