Want to avoid awkward silences in conversations? Here are two tricks guaranteed to jump-start any conversation, according to the pros:

  • Ask about the PAST. For example, talk show host Andy Cohen says his “go to” question when meeting people for the first time is: “Where did you grow up?” Because a person’s childhood is always a great jumping-off point for other conversations. They can talk about their hometown, what sports they played in high school, or what they studied in college. The catch? Cohen says avoid asking specific questions about someone’s parents, or their marriage. Because any question that invites someone to say: “Well, my Dad recently died…” will stop a conversation cold!

  • Ask about TODAY. Comedian John Hodgman says a question like, “What did you do today?” sparks a much more interesting conversations than something like “What do you do for work?” First, because if someone is unemployed, the conversation hits a dead-end immediately. Plus, questions like “What did you do today?” are more intimate. It’s something you’d ask your spouse, or best friend. So, it may catch a stranger or acquaintance off guard. And even if the answer is just “I had lunch with a co-worker,” it can inspire follow-up questions, like: “Where did you eat?” or “How was the food?” And because it’s a question typically asked by close friends, it’ll make the person perceive you as a friend more quickly.