1. Have an Agenda
The first way to ensure that a meeting will run smoothly is to plan it out. The most common way of doing this is to set an agenda in advance, and to put that agenda out before the meeting so that attendees have a chance to comment on the agenda and provide feedback on the projected meeting topics. By providing the agenda in advance and allowing comment, interruptions and tangents can be reduced.
2. Have a named chairperson
By naming a chairperson, the group invests a single person with the ability to bring up new items and move away from items that have been brought up. This allows off-topic discussion to be ended, as well as giving a single person both the authority and the responsibility to move on to a different topic if discussion becomes stalled.
3. Start and remain on time
Starting consistently on time ensures that people will show up on time (though it may take a few meetings), and remaining on time through the meeting (in other words, having a set amount of time for each topic) ensures that discussions stay relevant and that the chairperson has a "rule" to fall back on to help him or her move the meeting on to a new topic when necessary.
4. Review the meeting
Posting minutes is a good way to review what occurred during the meeting, and having the chairperson follow up with any action items that were identified shortly after the meeting is also a good idea. This keeps the membership on-task with the items decided upon in the meeting, and allows for a review of what has been accomplished at the next meeting.