5 Tips to Ensure You’re Getting Max Value for Your Summit NA Investment

Summit NA

Community Summit North America (Summit NA)! For those of you who have been around for a long time, you may also remember it as NAVUG Summit or NAVUG Focus (replace NAVUG with your favorite UG, as needed). History books and wall carvings by generations past tell us that the inaugural event happened sometime between the ice age and the early 2000s. It was probably closer to Y2K than it was to the Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution, but if you’re a millennial or GenZ, that’s all a long time ago anyway.

A lot has changed over the years, but one thing remains constant: For the Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Power Platform ecosystem, Summit NA is THE annual pilgrimage of learning and networking.

When Community Summit NA comes to San Antonio, Texas this fall, over 6,000 end-users, partners, ISVs, and Microsoft representatives will congregate from all over North America – and in some cases, from across the pond.

If you are planning to attend – and you most certainly should – I want to help you get the most out of your time and financial investment. Without further ado, here are the five tips for Summit nirvana:

Review the Agenda and Select Your Sessions BEFORE You Travel

Game-planning is critical. Many sessions are going on concurrently for each product group, and chances are, you will often find more than one topic of interest in the same time slot. If you’ll be joined by one or more co-workers at Summit, use that to your advantage by dividing and conquering sessions as opposed to all going to the same session.

Sometimes, you’ll find two sessions on different days covering the same topic (often by different speakers, and targeting different skill levels; or at least a different perspective on the topic). If you’re unable to attend the first session on that topic, you can pick the alternative session another day.

Also, keep in mind that sessions can have different lengths and formats: standard sessions, ask-the-expert panel and town-hall style sessions, shorter fast-chats, and longer workshops. Define your goals for the event, and pick the session types that best align with those goals. Do you want to learn a new skill? Do you want to have your questions answered? Do you want to bounce ideas with peers? Do you want hands-on time? There’s a session type for all of those!

Don’t Sleep on the Academy Classes

Every year, Summit has pre-conference Academy classes. These are 1-2 day hands-on workshops where you can learn a whole new skill or functional area of Dynamics 365 or Power Platform. Yes, they cost extra, but they are reasonably priced instructor-led courses with a limited number of attendees. This creates ample opportunities for attendees to learn, ask questions, and complete exercises first-hand.

Each year, you will find different subject matter covered at Academy sessions. Some are technical and some are functional.

If your goal is to quickly go from novice to expert (or above-intermediate) in a domain in a short time, you won’t want to overlook Academy.

Ask-the-Expert Sessions are Good, but the Tech Medic Desk Is Better!

Ask-the-Expert sessions are always a popular choice with inquisitive attendees. You get to have your questions answered by not one but multiple experts, and you learn from questions that others bring to the session. But if you have a very specific question that requires hands-on attention (‘Can you show me that on your screen?’), time constraints will be an obstacle to getting those answered. This is where the Tech Medic Desk comes in!

Bring your laptop and your problems to the Tech-Medic Desk during office hours and you’ll be able to get the help of an expert medic to troubleshoot your issue! Throughout the Summit conference, the Tech Medic Desk has published office hours for different types of experts.

Summit isn’t just about learning, it’s also about getting your problems solved! Unfortunately, for now, it’s just for your Dynamics and Power Platform problems. We don’t have relationship experts on hand yet.

Plan Your Time at the Expo Hall

The Expo Hall is another can’t-miss part of the experience. Each year, we have new ISVs and partner solutions, and even the ISVs everyone already knows may have new products and apps that you didn’t know about. This is the perfect place to see a demo, ask questions, get help, compare similar apps from different ISVs, and of course, to network. But there’s one problem… the Expo Hall is massive! Or so it feels after a long day of walking back and forth between sessions.

If you don’t come up with a game plan, you might end up spending too much time on one side of the Expo Hall or with one ISV and completely miss out on other important parts of the show. Take time to explore, and prepare a must-visit list of ISVs and partners. And then leave some time for the unexpected booths that catch your eye. To make things easy for you, Summit Expo booths have a sticker on the floor right in front of them identifying which products their solution works with. Use them to guide you.

Also, many ISVs have drawings and giveaways – don’t be shy and miss out on the opportunity to win something fun for you or a family member back home!

Don’t Go Straight Back To Your Room After Sessions End

Summit is about learning AND networking. It’s about work AND play. While I wouldn’t recommend staying up late every night and partying till the sun comes up, I would also caution against the other extreme where you go straight back to your room to rest after the session and Expo end.

There are plenty of unofficial events hosted by ISVs and partners, and even impromptu get-togethers that happen at hotels surrounding the convention center. Ask around about what events are happening each day – some will be publicly announced with RSVPs, and others by word of mouth. And if you come by the hotel lobby or the various restaurants and bars, you will find friends – or strangers who become friends – to discuss the event with.

If you are an aspiring speaker, make time to talk to some current speakers and find out how they got their start. Ditto if you’re looking to get more involved with year-round User Group events. You never know who you’ll meet, or what you’ll learn in terms of knowledge or perspectives. One of the most important value adds of in-person conferences is the networking opportunities! This may seem like common sense advice, but what I’ve learned over the years is that we are all different. If you are an extrovert, you naturally enjoy going out and networking. But if you are an introvert, you will need to push yourself and plan for it after a long day of being around a lot of people in sessions.

You are now wise to the ways of Summit. But before I let you go, let me share a few more rapid-fire pointers:

  • Bring comfortable shoes
  • Consider bringing an extra backpack or tote bag that packs flat; if you pick up a lot of goodies at the Expo hall, you’ll have something to take them home in
  • Make time to recap your learnings with your teammates (or at least yourself) when you go back home. You are your team’s delegate at Summit, and they’re counting on you to learn and share your newfound knowledge with them.

I hope to see you in San Antonio this fall. And when we meet, I want you to tell me what you think of my tips!

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