Love them or hate them, meetings are important. They’re a big part of how we get work done, how we run our business, and how we collaborate. And if you’re like me, you’re in meetings a lot, which is OK by me since I run Cisco’s WebEx business!

But there is one thing that drives us here at Cisco crazy about meetings. In fact, we were bothered by it so much that we took it upon ourselves to do something about it.

What was it? Background noise: keyboard clicking, dog barking, doorbell ringing. And then there was the potato chip guy… munch, munch, munch. Incredibly annoying! Beyond being annoying, it turns out that background noise can affect your concentration.

“Researchers have found that environmental noise—background music, city sounds, people’s conversations—leads to a decrease in performance for most people,” according to Fast Company. “But the good news is that many of those sounds are easy to tune out, making even small reductions likely to improve our effectiveness.”

Certain types of background noise are OK depending on the situation. Nature sounds can actually help me focus on a specific task. But, add chirping birds to a meeting, and I will not have the same positive reaction. Unwanted background noise is very distracting. You can lose your train of thought. It can impact the point of your presentation. Or worse, you can come across as unprofessional.

WebEx recognizes knocking, typing, sirens, and barking dogs. Once detected, it prompts you to mute your microphone. That’s it. Simple.

We wanted to fix this problem. Well, at least for WebEx participants – we can’t help you with the person sitting next to you with the potato chip obsession. So our engineers got to work. Using machine learning, WebEx can now detect background noise and prompt you to mute your microphone if you have called into the meeting from your computer. Lots of innovation for a small feature but with huge benefits!

Coming in the next couple of weeks, sounds like knocking, typing, sirens, and barking dogs are classified as background noise by WebEx. Once detected, you’re prompted with a pop-up message to mute your audio and microphone. That’s it. Simple.

With more people sending audio through WebEx than any other online meeting service, we have built up a thorough understanding of the most common (and annoying) forms of background noise. We use artificial intelligence to examine the meeting audio and pattern-match it against these known annoyances. The result is the simple, but powerful suggestion, that maybe you’d like to mute your microphone. You’re welcome.

So, when you’re “that guy” and you realize that you need to mute, do you mute your headset, or mute the WebEx app? And when you need to speak up – do you remember which one you used? We addressed that, too. Now you can mute and unmute your headset and desktop audio at the same time. With just one click, you can jump back into the conversation without any hassle. No more starting to talk and hearing someone say “are you still on mute?” just as you were getting to the good part.

By making meetings less distracting, meetings become more focused, and therefore, more effective. And since we all have plenty of other things to do, a focused, effective meeting experience can only help us be more productive.

What’s next you ask? Besides muting the potato chip guy, our engineers are finding new ways every day to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to make meetings better. This is our humble – but extremely valuable – start to seeing a generation of “smart meetings.”

Learn more about WebEx and the new features.



Jens Meggers

No Longer with Cisco