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Dinner party conversations are a total toss-up. You’ve definitely left a table thinking, “I need to have more conversations like that,” as you walk away, deep in thought. You’ve also definitely left a table thinking, “Did the guy sitting next to me really say his favorite candy are Tic Tacs? No one’s favorite candy are Tic Tacs.” Yep, been there. Sometimes the social setting is easy breezy and the dialogue is a flowin’, and other times you struggle, hard, to gain more than a one-word response from the friend-of-a-friend seated next to you.

That’s why we’re bringing you some of the best ice-breaking, convo-starting lines out there. Throw them out to the person on your left, or to the whole crowd and watch what happens. These questions and comments may fall totally flat, but even an awkward silence at first is better than hearing about someone’s eye-gouging-worthy career. (Note: Researching trends in vacuum cleaner sales is not our go-to topic for conversation, nor should it be yours, even if it’s what you do for a living.)

TIP: Start With The Basics

There’s something to be said for small talk, though — it warms us up a bit. Fact: Asking people simple questions about themselves brings guards down quicker than asking their salary. Start off slow and remember that the appetizers haven’t even come out yet.

1. How did you get into                              (Blank being their job, internship, volunteer position, hobbies, etc.)

2. Have you been to any good restaurants lately?

3. Have you seen any good movies lately?

TIP: Get Intellectual

Don’t be afraid to broach sometimes-touchy topics, like politics. It’s inevitable for people to have differing opinions, so don’t shy away from them. Consider discussing these topics in the thick of the meal — things can’t get that tense while you’re twirling spaghetti around a spoon. They just can’t.

4. Political party preference

5. Religious background 

6. Current events — the real-world kind, not the college kind(Need ideas for right now? How about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Supreme Court’s rejection of 35-foot buffer zones (for anti-abortion protesters) outside of women’s clinics in Massachusetts? Those two should last you ’til dessert, at least.)

TIP: Get Philosophical

Sometimes small talk feels too…small. Ditch weather report musings for more thought-provoking considerations, like these questions from Marc and Angel Hack Life:

7. How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?

8. Are you worried about doing things right or doing the right things?

9. When and where you the happiest in your life?

Try these ideas out at your next evening outing and let us know if you’re still talking about vacuum cleaner sales trends. If you are, we feel deeply apologetic.

What are your favorite conversation starters?

(Image via Hush Dinner Club)