First, don’t waste time trying to convince yourself that you actually are smart and competent. The more you argue with impostor syndrome, the worse it gets, so don’t waste time – it will pass.
Second, reflect on why you were invited to this panel. What makes you stand out? Are you a woman in a male-dominated field? An English major in a field of engineers? An engineer at the American Academy of Poetry?
What are the skills that you highlight in a cover letter, or in an interview? What are the skills you deploy in the course of doing your job, day to day?
If you’ve overthought this so much that you can no longer remember what you’re good at, sit down right now and email five to seven trusted colleagues and ask them, What am I good at? The answers might surprise you. For example, I spent years being told by people that I didn’t talk enough, that I was too quiet, that I’m weird for not talking more, etc. When I reached out to colleagues a while back to ask them what I was good at, strangely enough I heard consistently from all of them: We really respect the way you stay quiet and listen to people – when you talk, it’s because you have something to say that reflects what other people are saying; you’re not just talking to hear your own voice
. So something that I had been told was a flaw was, in adulthood, part of my character that people who had taken the time to get to know me really respected.
Third, remember these things: You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to know the answer to every question. You don’t have to demonstrate your worth to the world solely in this one panel. It’s just another day at the office.
Sit down and look at those questions. Why are they hard? Maybe that is something to talk about: “You know, that question is a real doozy, because it gets right to the heart of what makes my work challenging, and let me tell you about that…
” “Thanks for asking that question – wow, that’s a tough one! If I had to deal with a question like that in my work, I would for sure go to my more technically-trained colleagues and run it past them. That’s because I’ve learned the value of consulting with people from multiple backgrounds before deciding on a course of action
Are there themes in the questions? Maybe there’s one on how you would manage a geographically-dispersed team, one on how you confidently manage staff who have more technical expertise than you do, and another on how you manage star performers who have strong ego issues. Maybe you don’t know the answer to any of those specific questions – but, you’ve thought a lot about your approach to management in general, so you can extrapolate from what you do know to telling people what you would do in those unfamiliar situations.
Fake it to make it. Act like a smart strong capable person, then you’ll be treated like one, then you’ll remember that you actually are one.