So your friends aren’t returning your calls and you can’t get past a second date. Why? It’s not just because you’re ugly. You don’t know how to have a conversation.

“But I talk all the time!” you protest. “I’ve been doing it since I was like 2. I think I’ve pretty much got it down.”

Sadly, you do not. Conversation is very much a learned skill, even more so in a generation where texts have replaced phone calls and smartphones are pulled out like pacifiers.

I know what you’re thinking: “Oh no, this is one of those common sense articles! You’re just going to tell me a bunch of stuff I already know. I can feel it!” Not at all, my friend. Not. At. All. What you need is some fresh new conversational advice, not old hand-me-downs. It’s time to blow the lid off the top secret techniques that the conversationally adept DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW.

1. Listening. That’s right, listening.

Okay, it’s no big secret, but people are generally interesting and at least a little crazy. Let them talk for a while. Soak it in. Instead of desperately trying to think up the next topic of conversation, really listen and things should start to flow naturally. That is, so long as you…

2. Ask questions, as in, multiple.

Conversations become boring interrogation sessions really quickly if both people don’t contribute. If they’ve asked you two or three questions in a row, maybe it’s time to return the favor. This does not mean just turning their questions back on them (“Okay, now what’s your favorite band?”), but taking an active role in the conversation. You’re tired of talking about sports? Ask them about something that interests you. Have a crazy story about your brother that you love telling? Ask them about their family and see where it leads. And when you’ve worn out small talk?

3. Ask BIG questions. Carefully.

Politics, religion, morals, philosophy: The big questions can be hard to bring up and some people will NEVER talk about them. But if you find someone who really loves to talk, these topics can provide hours of conversation. Just make sure you…

4. Watch their body language. Hell, watch yours.

I know what you’re thinking: “This is HARD. I don’t like this article. I just want to drink a beer and relax, not conduct sociological experiments in my spare time.” And, hey, I’m on your side. Most of the time, conversation should be easy and fun, but sometimes it just doesn’t click. Are they fidgeting in their seat? Checking their phone? Sighing? Looking around the bar? Well, what’s the last thing you said? Maybe you offended them. Maybe they’re bored. Have you been talking for the last twenty minutes? Maybe you forgot to ASK QUESTIONS. Maybe they’re just distracted and it’s not your fault at all, but you can still ask them why that is. Maybe nothing’s wrong and they’re just kind of rude. Well, time to take things into your own hands.

5. Offer up unsolicited information, just not too much.

Occasionally you’ll be talking to one of the few people who haven’t read this article, and they will just be sitting there like a lump, smiling at you occasionally and checking their incoming texts. You’ve listened and asked them questions, but things have petered out again and again. Well, maybe they don’t like talking about themselves. Have a funny story about that time you lit your face on fire? Give it a try. Still nothing? How about your favorite road trip. Okay, they’re still just sitting there. Did you know some people can sleep with their eyes open? Not that they’re sleeping, of course. I’m sure your stories are very entertaining. It’s just a thing I know.

Pro-tip: Slowly waving your hand in front of someone’s face can be a great tactful trick to make sure no one’s catching any z’s on your time. If they wake up, try telling them you just hypnotized them! If they were already awake, just say, “Hi!”

Dave Green is a conversational virtuoso AND great-looking, but still can’t get past a second date. And yes, he really did light his face on fire. Anything you’ve noticed people are just plain bad at? Email and he will scold them for you.

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