Like the famous definition of pornography, “I know it when I see it,” many meeting planners have a similarly intuitive definition of conference centers. There are, however, clear criteria that define the conference center concept.

In fact, the International Association of Conference Centers has a 30-point definition that separates its 330 member centers from the world of meeting facilities. Below are some key points of IACC's definition. For a complete list, visit www.iacconline.com and click on “membership criteria.” The IACC Web site also allows planners to search for conference centers and send request for proposals.

  • A minimum of 60 percent (based on net area) of meeting space in the conference center is dedicated, single-purpose conference space.

  • A minimum of 60 percent of total revenue from guest rooms, meeting space, food and beverage, audiovisual, and conference services is conference-related. (If the conference center is nonresidential or ancillary to a resort or convention hotel, 70 percent of total sales of the conference center is generated from conferences).

  • Continuous refreshment service is set up outside meeting rooms unless requested otherwise.

  • Average group size: 75 people or fewer.

  • The conference center offers and promotes a complete meeting package that includes conference rooms, guest rooms (when applicable), three meals, continuous refreshment service, conference services, and basic AV equipment (typically, overhead projectors, flip charts, 35mm slide projectors, microphones, and video playback equipment).

  • Conference rooms are available to clients on a 24-hour basis for storage of materials.

  • The conference center has sufficient inventory so 60 percent of dedicated meeting rooms can be set up using ergonomically designed chairs, which have upholstery and, ideally, are designed to swivel and tilt for attendees' comfort.

  • The majority of conference setups use tables designed for meetings and have a nonreflective, hard writing surface. (Draped, skirted banquet tables are not acceptable.)

  • Conference rooms have wall surfaces suitable for tacking or other mounting of flip-chart-type sheets.

  • A designated conference planner is assigned to each conference group.

  • Guest rooms include work stations, adequate lighting for reading or working, and comfortable seating.