How is a NATO Summit like an academic conference? A summit is like a conference in that it sets an artificial deadline so that the various actors can try to complete their products whether it is a communique or approval of a policy document by NATO or a conference paper for an academic. We can possibly have these outputs without summits/conferences but these events create incentives to make progress. In the lead up to a major meeting, talking points and documents are vetted thoroughly by each country's inter-agency process (bureaucracy). Once at a summit/conference, there is lots of schmoozing/networking/business conducted but not on the major planned outputs.
So, no one should be surprised that nothing concrete was settled about the French departure from Afghanistan or changing the timing of transition nor any progress on Pakistan and the supply route problem. All progress on contentious issues is made ahead of time, just like all research and writing for a conference paper is prior to the conference. Sure, this means that sometimes papers are incomplete or quite flawed, and sometimes summits have less to show than expected and contentious issues are kicked down the road. But we should also realize that just as the informal networking at the conference hotel bar actually is quite important for setting agendas, opening up new possibilities down the road, and so on (here I am rationalizing my own behavior), the various meetings and exchanges among NATO and partners are also productive even if they do not lead to a new agreement/treaty/policy documents.