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Sound Advice: Clean Up Your Noisy Meetings


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Among the tips that IT consultant Denise Munro shared last week in her post on combatting work-from-home snafus, this one stuck out to me: “Use the mute button liberally! If your barking dog is making it difficult to participate in a call, hit the mute button.”
This is sound advice, pun intended. But as somebody who must often participate actively during meetings, sometimes moderates live webinars, and will soon be leading a handful of virtual roundtables (including one on how to balance distributed and office work), muting my line isn’t always an option. I’m not so concerned with background noise of the home office environment filtering into virtual meetings with colleagues — we all get it. But I am on tenterhooks during the virtual events we host, often on behalf of clients, for our various audiences. The last thing I want is for my teenager’s music or the neighbor’s lawnmower providing an ill-timed soundtrack for one of these events.
So, yes, I do use the mute button when I’m not speaking (and hope to remember to click unmute as needed), and I alert my fellow home denizens that I need absolute silence from when to when, and text them reminders just ahead of the start time. On nice days, I may send the dog out to the yard or have my son take her for a long walk during the appointed time, his school schedule permitting. And, just to be sure nobody forgets, when on an event call, I shut my office door and stick a “Quiet! In a webinar” Post-it Note on my office door.
Turns out, artificial intelligence (AI) can be of some use here. Advanced noise cancellation technology has been available on a communications/collaboration headset or room system basis, and now we’re seeing it applied to desktop collaboration, too. One of the companies in this space is BabbleLabs, which offers noise suppression and speech enhancement technology called Clear Edge.
I recently met, over video, with some folks at BabbleLabs, and got a quick demo of Clear Edge from Savita Kini, senior director of product management. With Clear Edge turned off, Kini clanked repeatedly on her metal water bottle, the sound a loud distraction from the conversation. Continuing to clank, she turned Clear Edge on — and that annoying background noise was no longer discernable to other meeting participants.
This was a simple demo, but it easily showed how useful noise suppression technology such as this can be not only for video or audio collaboration in a distributed environment but in an open office or meeting room, too. In a contributed article over on our sister site, No Jitter, BabbleLabs Chris Rowen, described three use cases for AI-powered speech tools. Check out the article in full, but here’s a brief synopsis:
  1. Speech enhancement software can increase team understanding and productivity by allowing people to hear better and be better understood during conference calls.
  2. Speech recognition software can ease and improve operational efficiencies by enabling meeting control — start meeting, launch presentation, invite new participants into a call, and so on — via voice command.
  3. Speech analytics, when applied to conference calls and video meetings, can reveal insight from the words spoken, intonation, background noise, and more.
In the case of BabbleLabs, the Clear Edge technology can be implemented at the platform level by room system, laptop, and mobile device platforms; by IT, for use with unified communications and collaboration services as an add-on for individual users or meeting spaces; or by individuals via download to their devices, Rowen said. For all the reasons I described above, I’m hoping to reduce my meeting stress with the help of Clear Edge — but do need to get IT’s OK for the download first.
As we move forward with distributed work as a regular part of business life, this is the sort of technology that will help bring about the incremental improvements that will enable companies to keep the employee experience positive and engagement high. Do you have any tools that are doing the same for your organization? Share below!

Learn more about speech technologies at Enterprise Connect Digital Conference & Expo, taking place the week of Aug. 3. On Monday, Aug. 3, from 4:15 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET, UC analyst Jon Arnold will be presenting the session, "Speech Technologies: Innovations and Use Cases." View the full conference here and register today!