Avoid talking about hot-button, controversial or embarrassing issues.
While you may be passionate about universal health care or women's choice issues, these are not the topics to talk about on the first date. You could have vastly different opinions and end up listening to awkward silence. Avoid health topics, as well; talking about the last time you had your physical will instantly land you in awkward territory.
Plan the date beforehand.
Do not go into it with a "What happens will happen" mentality. It will be awkward if you find yourself just standing there, wondering what to do. Work out date logistics before the date, such as who will pay or when the date will end. Of course, you can be spontaneous if the date is going well, but asking her to pull out her wallet when you didn't tell her you were going dutch is awkward.
Make a joke -- a good one.
If the conversation lulls or you have a misstep, joking to your date could get you out of the awkward zone. Observe your surroundings and make him laugh to defuse awkward moments. If you trip on your way back from the men's room, bring attention to it by making a joke about your graceful tendencies. When she sees you laughing at the awkwardness, she will too, and the moment will be over.
In the end, everyone loves to talk about themselves, so asking about his family, education, job and interests will keep the conversation moving smoothly. Make sure that the questions don't sound like an interview, flowing easily from one to another. Ask about his profession and what area of study he followed. The next question might ask if his current career is connected to his degree or something else entirely different. This makes it sound more like natural conversation.
Skip the end of the night kiss unless you both are clearly smitten.
Look for signs that she's looking deep into your eyes or fiddling with her keys, trying to prolong the moment. If she avoids your gaze or goes in for a hug only, don't press the issue. Wait for a call or text that indicates how the date felt to her. The first kiss is already awkward, and if you aren't getting the signals, avoid it altogether.