It is easier to avoid an awkward silence in conversation when you have discussion topics prepared ahead of time. Those who fare the best during small talk usually stay on top of current events and show a genuine interest in others. You don't have to say something brilliant or hilarious to avoid silence -- just offer a topic to discuss and show that you are open and willing to talk.
Most small talk begins with conversation about your immediate surroundings, according to the Shyness Research Institute article, "How to Make Successful Small Talk: The Key to Connecting, Not Just Conversing." Topics might include the weather, the decorations at a party, the length of a line or the food at a buffet. Anything that you and another person have in common at any moment is fair game and will help to avoid an awkward silence.
If you wish to avoid awkward silences, stay on top of current events for ideas to start conversation. Watch the news, follow sports, learn the top movies and songs and pick up celebrity gossip, writes Gretchen Rubin in the Psychology Today article, "A Menu of Options for Small Talk." Beyond current events, hobbies and activities are another area of small talk that can generate discussion. Cooking, art, bird watching, traveling -- any hobby or activity can be thrown out as a conversation starter when you feel a lull coming on. To discover another person's hobbies, simply say "What do you do for fun?"
Keep the conversation going by focusing outward. Use open-ended questions that can't be answered with "yes" or "no." Don't become fixated on topics that you find interesting -- ask about the other person's interests. Ask getting-to-know you questions such as, "Where did you grow up?" If you have an opportunity, try to learn things about your conversation partner before you are thrust into the situation so that you have information to draw on when asking questions, says communications consultant Debra Fine in the article, "Tips for Making Small Talk Success" on her website. For example, if he is the captain of the football team, ask, "How did you feel after the last game?"
Sometimes you need to go beyond the usual topics -- especially if you sense a silence is brewing because of boredom. Offer your conversation partner a compliment, such as "I really like that jacket, where did you find it?" If you have the gumption, ask a somewhat unexpected question such as, "Why did you move away from your hometown?" Most people will be intrigued and flattered by your interest, Rubin says. Use visual cues as prompts for discussion, as suggested by the Yale University article, "Conversation Tips." For example, if the other person is wearing something unusual, ask where he found the item. If all else fails, and you find yourself in the middle of an awkward silence, simply say "I am just thinking about what you said."
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