The world as we know it is changing. While most of our days may still be taken up with doing business on the telephone and managing projects on paper, the percentage of time religious meeting planners spend using the Internet has grown immensely. And that time may be our most productive time, the time of greatest strategic importance. To ensure that the time you spend on the Web is some of your most valuable, you should demand certain important things from your online professional planning resources. When you go to the World Wide Web and seek planning resources, there are nine questions you should ask of a site.

Are the resources available international in scope?

The Internet is the ultimate global resource, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no matter where you are. Yet few Web sites take advantage of the fact that they can provide information to those outside the confines of the United States, or to those who need information about the rest of the world. Few Web sites accomplish this, partly because the scope of their business services is not truly global.

As a professional, you can and should demand global information. Look for a site that is global in scope, which not only provides information that is internationally relevant but is also able to provide the richness of information that answers the needs of diverse groups of users.

Does the Web site let you conduct research?

Assess the quality of the information on the Web site. Is the Web site merely a marketing tool, or does it go beyond marketing to provide information and resources that allow you to do your job better? Is the information on the site specific? Is it relevant?

Many Web sites provide only teaser information as a means of getting people to call them or send an e-mail, or just register. However, you should demand more than a mere brochure: You should demand to be informed.

Can you easily submit an RFP?

An online RFP should be easy to navigate and easy to use. It should remind you to provide information about the relevant details of your program while allowing you to represent the unique nature of your demands. An online RFP should not try to shoehorn your information into a predetermined format that means you may have to leave out some important information, only to have to follow up later when your planning phase has moved beyond Web interaction.

In addition, the Web site should provide you with more than one option for submitting your RFP. It should recognize that many planners have a document outlining their program needs, and would prefer to e-mail or fax that form; it should also realize that the ability to quickly send an e-mail with an attachment might be the way you choose to communicate.

Was the site created by meeting professionals?

Many Web sites are created for purposes other than the professional purposes they state. Some purport to offer free information, and drive traffic to the site to gain market access to their visitors for companies that pay to advertise to them with paid ads. You should demand that your online planning resource was created as a planning resource by genuine industry professionals.

Does the site provide access to a community of professional colleagues?

A Web site should provide the means for you to communicate with your professional colleagues. Many excellent Web sites provide a bulletin board or forum for you to ask questions or provide answers to your colleagues in the meeting planning profession. Inquiries can range from how-to questions to issues in strategic management.

Is the site easy to use?

Easy Web site navigation is possible — any site that fails to make it easy for you to get around is either poorly designed or, like supermarkets that bury the bread and milk at the back of the store, asking you to get through other information before you get to what you need. You should be able to click easily through to the pages you need. Some Web sites take this a step further and allow you to personalize your site by determining your preferred order for the pages to appear.

Can you have control over the information you leave on the site?

Your information should not disappear into thin cyberspace, but rather should be archived, so that you can go back to it, change it, manage it, delete it, and resubmit it. You should not have to re-enter your information time and time again — the Web site should know you and respond to you as an individual. A Web site should not be a barrier to personal communication; rather, it should enhance that communication.

Does the site go beyond informing to allow communication?

The feature you should look for is communication, not information. Any organization can post facts. But does the Web site generate communication from the organization? Do you get timely and useful online newsletters and notification of updates and features that are of interest to you? More importantly, do you get the proposals you need in a timely manner? Does the Web site lead to valuable interaction with the organization it represents? High-tech should lead to high-touch.

Does the Web site make you more efficient?

The bottom line is your ROI — Return on your Online Investment. From a valuable professional resource, you should demand efficient communication, excellent information, changing and adapting informational resources, and newsletters and educational materials such as case studies and in-depth profiles. These types of resources make your time online valuable and increase your ROI.

It is easy for religious meeting planners to recognize that time is one of your most valuable resources. Online event planning resources should be created with that in mind. These tips will help you to identify the best of the Web and avoid the pitfalls that waste precious resources.