Worried about what to say on your first date? Well, good news! Below we have tips to avoid a conversation disaster on your first date, and even advice on making anyone fall in love with you.
Well, maybe at least “like you” enough to go on a second date. That’s always a plus, right?
These are simple tips you can use anywhere, anytime, no matter the occasion. More often than not, speaking skills are valuable tools of communication that determine the outcome of a conversation or event. So if you’re ready for that first date to be a success story, let’s get started!
From the beginning of the date, “small talk” is very important in starting a conversation and building toward a relationship. It sparks an interest from the person you’re speaking with, and helps you dive into deeper discussions later during the date.
Small talk is like dancing: you’re unsure if you should do it because you’re nervous (or afraid the other person might judge you), but once you’re warmed up, you feel confident to keep going; especially when you feel a mutual connection.
We all know discovering more about your date is something we must do, but how to do it isn’t always clear. Let’s go over a few things to help you understand what’s going during the first seconds of a date.
People make quick judgements in the first few seconds of meeting you. Most people can use their gut feeling (intuition) to accurately guess if it’s going to be a good date or not; or if the person will be fun to talk to.
Karla Ivankovich, psychologist and author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love, talks about human intuition. “That gut feeling—a sixth sense, inner voice, or uncanny wisdom that allows the hardwired internal defense systems of the brain to reveal a greater truth.”
Experiments by Princeton psychologists, Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, reveal that it takes a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face. Humans have evolved to accurately judge a person’s trustworthiness as an important survival mechanism.
It’s important to know about the feeling you’ll receive the moment before speaking to someone, because that feeling is an indicator to either steer the conversation forward or end it. Always feel free to pick and choose who you want to talk to!
Now, let’s talk more about what you have control over during the first date: Building momentum of the conversation using small talk.
Build a conversation like you would a stack of plates: gently and one at a time; so you don’t break the plates and shatter any hopes of eating a home cooked meal in the future. This is comparable to starting a conversation on the first date. Take your time, listen, ease into different topics, talk about common experiences, and keep stacking the conversation to ensure the momentum continues to build. See the picture below for a visual understanding.
How to keep the momentum of the conversation going using small talk.
Start the conversation with basic topics or simple questions. These are “safe” topics or “feelers”, giving you an idea about who the person is or what their personality is like. Using “safe” questions will also give you an idea of which direction to go in.
An example of a safe (but wise and effective) introduction would be, “Hey, it’s great to meet you. I’m Joe. How’s your day going?” – This is a good place to start because it’s an extremely basic and a common question. It’s simple, and it invites the other person to open up about their experiences. If they do share their events of the day, you can pull from what they’ve said to use for the conversation, thus creating a connection and beginning to build momentum.
Another great opener would be, “Hey, it’s great to meet you. I’m Joe. I’m happy we’ve finally met.” – This isn’t a question, but a unique strategy you can try out. It offers an opportunity for the other person to say something or create more small talk. They can say, “Yea me too!” or “It’s a great to meet you. How’s your day been?”
This gives you an indication of how they’re feeling through tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions. Listen and watch how the person reacts.
More “basic” or “safe” questions to start with at the very beginning of the conversation are:
“It’s great to meet you! How are you?”
“It’s great to meet you! How’s your day been?”
“How’s your day going?”
“What’s your day been like?”
“Have you been here before? (If yes) What do you recommend eating?”
If it’s a morning coffee date – “What do you have planned for the day (work)?”
Use these questions (or small variations of them) to get the momentum going. They allow you to feel out the person you’re with and continue to build toward a connection.
After a few basic questions, start picking up the speed and begin to discover meaningful things about your date.
Some questions you can use are:
What are your weekend plans?
What are some personal projects you’re working on?
What do you recommend for fun activities this weekend?
Working on anything exciting lately outside of work?
Allow the other person to take center stage and ask quality questions. It’s an easy way to move the spotlight away from you, especially if you’re uncomfortable or nervous. Be sure not to interrogate the other person, though, and add a few interesting pieces of information about yourself too.
Work off the questions you ask.
At this point, you’ve discovered some facts about the person you’re on a date with. You have clues and ideas to work with, so we’ll give you a few basic follow-up examples below.
If you ask your date – “What are your plans this weekend?” and they say, “I’m meeting up with friends to get drinks. Keeping it simple.”
Follow it up with: “That sounds great. There are good bar options around here I’ve noticed. Do you have a favorite?”
“Great. It’s always good to keep things simple. What are some other weekend activities you enjoy?
“That’s great. How long have you known your friends for?”
Your date will more than likely ask you the same question or something similar. When they do, elaborate, but don’t be longwinded.
Question: “Tell me about your day?” Short response: “It was good. Just got out of work.” Better response: “My day was good. I enjoyed my time at work, and finally finished a huge research project for my boss. So glad to be out having a drink.”
This comment gives detail but leaving enough curiosity for the listener to ask questions. It helps the other person bounce back a comment or question. Keep the momentum going by having the conversation go back and forth.
Find common ground and shared experiences to build on. When you discover commonalities, you’ll build trust and become likable faster. When you accomplish this, it’s a great place to ask deeper questions.
After establishing trust and compatibility, discussions over shared experiences gives the other person a sense of freedom that allows them (and you) to be open and honest. This is known as “bonding”, allowing you to have deeper conversations and discover more about your date.
Keep in mind this might take a few different conversations to reach this level of connection. Some people open up sooner (or later) than others.
Examples of deep questions.
“Can you tell me more about your family?”
“Does the work you’re doing now make you happy?”
“Can you tell me about your last relationship?”
“Where did you grow up, and what was your family like?”
These are good questions to venture into deep-conversation territory when you’re ready. Not everyone will feel comfortable answering these questions on a first date, so that’s why it’s important to demonstrate empathy. This means to Understand another person’s thoughts, feelings, and point of view. It is to behave in a compassionate manner.
During a deep conversation, it’s very important to be empathetic due to the sensitive topics that will most likely be discussed. If you don’t treat these conversations with care, you may lose the trust and momentum you’ve been building all this time (and now you’ll have to start over).
Some interesting research to think about.
Research by Marisa T. Cohen measured 390 predominantly heterosexual individuals that showed a successful first date happened when the woman was able to talk about herself. Both men and woman stated that they established a connection when the woman had the floor, and the man could create a shared experience by commenting on what his date says.
Prior research showed the same results by McFarland et al. They studied romantic bonding through exploring interaction ritual theory within the context of heterosexual speed dating.
The conclusions were:
Overall, interpersonal chemistry was highest when the women were the subjects of conversation and the men demonstrated understanding (empathy!) of the women. The bonding occurred through reciprocal role coordination (give and take), in which the female was the focal point; the center of conversation.
Make them the focal point by being curious and explore with genuine interest.
When you lead with curiosity and ask thoughtful questions that allow someone to share or “have the floor”, you build a connection (that leads to trust). As you ask questions, you’ll likely find places where you have commonalities and “shared narratives”, which are quick ways to building momentum with the other person.
Never underestimate the influence of small talk.
You can learn how to have small talk in only a few days. Trust us when we say that it plays a vital role in establishing relationships – whether that relationship happens to be in a social setting or in a professional one.
This is your chance to learn basic and important knowledge about someone. Be excited, and don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect. Simply have fun!