Last night at the Fairfield / Westchester .NET User Group in Stamford, CT, Microsoft’s Peter Laudati brought uncommon clarity to his presentation of Microsoft’s AJAX framework. Peter is a top-notch presenter, and he proved why he’s a Developer Evangelist for the NY / NJ area.

Although I’ve seen many solid presentations at user groups and code camps, it’s too easy to get lost in the details rather early, because speakers try to squeeze in more than should be attempted within an hour or two, and they rush through some important steps. Since the examples usually build upon each other as they demo increasing complexity, much of the session becomes a blur. You may get an inkling that the technology is cool and can help you, but often you just end up with just a sense of how to use it, and still have to start from scratch when digging into it on your own.

But Peter did one of the best jobs of taking the time to very clearly explain not only what each feature was, but also why you would use one option over the other, and showing why each piece of code was needed. He didn’t assume that you knew everything beforehand, so he explained things in a way where even experienced AJAX developers could gain new insights. He also used a very good mix of slides, demos, and code. Very refreshing. It’s rare that anyone takes the time to answer the “whys”, instead of just the “whats” — even when writing a book, when you’d assume that they had all the time in the world. That’s definitely a topic for a future blog post…

I have played around with the Microsoft AJAX framework and the add-on Control Toolkit, but Peter’s presentation opened my eyes to how to take advantage of writing your own hooks or controls. He also showed us how to use a couple of cool free IE add-ons (and mentioned one for Firefox), that makes it a lot easier to develop dynamic web pages. Much of the discussion was about AJAX in general (see, Microsoft does acknowledge the rest of the world), and he showed us some exciting new features coming soon. He also gave a quick intro to JSON, which is natively supported by JavaScript, and a lot lighter and more portable than XML for both client and server processing in an AJAX app.

A lot was covered, and the material from his presentation will be on our user group website shortly, so I won’t go into detail here.

If you get the chance to catch a presentation by Peter, or some of the other top speakers in the field, and if you are planning on presenting a technical topic, I recommend experiencing these sessions from a different perspective — recognize that you don’t have to completely exhaust a topic in a single session. Take the time to focus on specific core aspects of your topic, and make an extra effort to explain why you use the tools in the ways you have chosen. By taking home a solid foundation, we can dig deeper on our own.