Unless you are Barbara Walters, chances are your file cabinet full of first dates experiences does not evoke memories of comfortable conversations. In fact making a romantic connection with a stranger can be a lot like spelunking for gold dust in a fodder-filled cavern deep in the Guatemalan jungle. Luckily you will not have to worry about guano showers or blind arachnids crawling up your pant leg during the date, which should help your cause considerably.
It's not that you don't have anything interesting to say, but once your nerves & spelunking cords get tangled up causing you to plummet into the dark abyss of dating purgatory, finding the right path is a lot harder than it seems. Simply knowing how to approach these situations will help you reach the light on the other side of the tunnel. If you engage your date (but not in the elopement kind of way) in the conversation, you can easily avoid the murky silt-heavy trappings of awkward silences and the creepy crawlies that turn your date into a trembling transfer of twaddle and jittery glances.
An engaging conversation does not need to involve molecular-level hydrogen sulfide bonds to be effective (in fact you should probably steer away from molecular science altogether), it only needs to soften the terrain between you, so instead of delving into hydrogen sulfide bonds, you are bonding with your date. The best topics are always simple things such your likes and dislikes, hobbies & talents, friends and family, current events, traveling, or pop culture. You can even lighten the mood of the date by sharing horrible or humorous stories of some past dates (but use discretion in these cases not to mention names or talk about your past relationships), this can give your date a little confidence that at least they are on the right track. Ask him or her what kind of traits they prefer in their mates, and many times this serves as a natural queue for more flirtatious behavior.
Don't be afraid of those awkward moments of silence. If you are struck with one of those unbearable lulls in which you hear your heartbeat echoing from every crack and crevice, use it as an opportunity to throw in a compliment about your date. Whether it be corny or cliché, unique or unusual, at least you have left them warm and fuzzy rather than in a fog of discomfort. Ask open-ended questions and make Barbara proud. Explore a range of topics until you feel their interest shoot up like a stalagmite, then stay on that topic and the conversation will flow wild out of the cave like a river meeting the ocean. Successful conversation is your invitation to a second date.